Drawn To Public Service

From turkeys to tributes, former Cobb Commissioner Butch Thompson stays involved

During the three days before Thanksgiving, Joseph “Butch” Thompson, 63, will roll out three smokers and spend hours hovering over some 900 turkeys.

The former Cobb County commissioner and president and owner of Butch Thompson Enterprises, a site preparation contracting firm, will then distribute smoked turkeys to friends, strangers, employees and family members. “He’s done it for years,” says Thompson’s 33-year-old son, Jud, vice president of business development and safety at his father’s company. “It’s a great time, and everyone looks forward to it.”

Whether providing smoked turkeys at Thanksgiving or helping a school with a paving project, Thompson has the heart of a public servant. “If there’s a need we try to respond,” he says.

Thompson was elected to the Cobb County Commission, western district, as it was called back then, in 1978. He ran for re-election in 1982, serving until 1986, a total of eight years. During that time, the county experienced tremendous growth, especially within Thomp-son’s field of expertise, preparing sites for infrastructure needs, particularly roads and water services. “I felt drawn to public service,” he says. “Cobb County has been good to me and I wanted to return a portion of what I earned through service.”

Thompson speaks proudly of the collegiality of the board during his tenure. “Earl Smith was the chairman the last two years I was on the board of commissioners,” he recalls. “We’d all share in the ideas, help each other with proposals and give credit where credit was due. It’s really true that it’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Although the commission took time away from his business and family, Thompson considers it a rewarding experience. “I will always have the utmost respect for those who take time away from their personal lives to serve their community,” he says. “No elected official makes the money they could out in their jobs or businesses, but most officials serve because they really want to make a difference.”

Thompson continued making a difference in his community when, in 2005 and no longer on the commission, he took the Cobb County Board of Education to court, filing a lawsuit to stop a program which would have used monies raised through a 2003 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to purchase laptop computers for Cobb County students. Thompson says the lawsuit was motivated by his concern that the school board changed the purpose of the SPLOST monies raised after voters passed the SPLOST for a different set of priorities.

“I felt the credibility of all SPLOST programs was jeopardized,” he says. “SPLOST is a great way for municipalities to fund projects. It’s a pay as you go program, but voters get to decide. I was afraid if [the laptop program] went through, we’d never get another SPLOST passed in Cobb County.”

Former Governor Roy Barnes represented Thompson in his case, and the judge found for Thompson. “To some people I was a villain,” Thomp-son says, “But I felt I had to take a stand.”

He took a stand in another way in 2003, when Jud, a member of the Marietta Kiwanis Club, asked his father if the company could help the club with its Field of Flags project to honor and remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The club planned to install 2,996 American flags, one for each person killed, on a 9-acre field at the Kennesaw National Battlefield Park.

Thompson jumped at the opportunity to help, diverting his 190 employees from their work sites for hours in order to assemble, transport and install the flags at the park. Thompson says he never considered tallying up the cost to his business. “The American people have such short memories,” he says. “Shutting my company down for two to three hours is nothing. It’s the least we can do to show our support.”

The company helped with the Kiwanis’ Field of Flags again in 2006. Thompson bought flags for all his employees and also installs flags on his company property and at his home for all major national holidays.

Modesty is one of Thompson’s hallmarks but Jud is happy to brag on him. “I was watching him all those years (he was a commissioner),” Jud says. “I was proud of him those eight years he served on the commission but I’m even more proud of him since then. He’s got a lot of fans in Cobb County.”

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