Playing a daylight game
By Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board
It is a long-held tenet of good governance in this country that the inherent power in any political subdivision resides firmly and ultimately with the people — and not those they elect to represent them. Or it should.
This non-negotiable truth has been cast aside and utterly ignored in Cobb County. The board of commissioners there badly needs a refresher course in this essential lesson of civics. This realization is based on the commission’s ongoing conduct around the matter of relocating the Atlanta Braves to new digs north of the ’Hooch.
Cobb officials’ behavior thus far has drawn to mind images of questionable-at-best backroom deals forged in secret by political kingpins who believe their positions are beyond, or impervious to, public oversight and accountability. The process thus far has heavily tarnished the reputation of a county that, not long ago, was widely spoken of as an example of forthright, open government.
No more can that be said. Which is a profound shame, both for that county and the region it is part of.
In our view, there is no reasonable reason why a proposal of such importance to Cobb, this entire metro area and, arguably, much of the Southeast, had to be sprung upon the public and raced to done-deal status in scarcely two weeks’ time start to finish. Such a breakneck — reckless, really — pace may have safeguarded vague business interests, but it has heavily damaged the public’s trust in government — in Cobb and beyond, we believe. Both this fractured region, and Cobb itself, should not have to bear such inflation in the price of civic distrust.
With hundreds of millions of public dollars now linked to this deal, taxpayers are fully justified in demanding that they have a right to know just what is, or was, going on much earlier than they did. And these same citizens are correct in questioning why this agreement could not have been conducted to a much-larger degree in the clean light of day. To do otherwise, as Cobb has done, frankly stinks.
Yet, the commission has been maddeningly consistent in its lockout of those who might dare criticize its maneuverings. During a commission meeting last month, opponents or skeptics of the proposal were barred from stating their case. Bureaucratic reasons feebly offered for this outrageous affront of the right to petition government also badly fail the smell test.
Cobb’s mulish insistence on keeping the public as far away from, for as long a period as possible, the decisions around the Braves’ move also unfairly call into question, if not impugn, the merits of what, at its core, is simply a business deal. Albeit a big one that moves an Atlanta — and Southern — institution from the central city to a new OTP home.
It’s worth stating here that this newspaper is not opposed to the team’s move. This Editorial Board has no position on where the Atlanta Braves ultimately play America’s pastime. In our view, the team, as a private-sector entity, is to be expected to seek the deal offering the best possible upside — wherever that may be around this great town.
Yet, Cobb County government’s behavior to this point has done no favors for a proposal that is best considered dispassionately — and openly. That would have been the best way to reach the best deal for all concerned, we believe.
And it should be the way forward from this point on for Cobb’s county commission.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
Cobb right to act quickly on Braves
By Tim Lee
When the Atlanta Braves approached us about building a new stadium in Cobb County, it was a tremendous opportunity for our community. And like most opportunities, it was only going to exist for a short time.
The team wanted to move from its old stadium. Cobb County had the infrastructure, the capability and the ideal location for this to happen. We were the best choice — but we were not the only choice.
Even metro Atlanta was not the team’s only choice.
With discussions of moving the franchise out of downtown it was a priority for me to get the team and their planned $400 million private development here in Cobb. Thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in local investments and new economic growth are now on the horizon. Thanks to our community and their support, this move will benefit metro Atlanta and boosts the region’s economy with every game.
The necessity for a fast process frustrated some, even as most residents celebrated. We were aware of our critics’ objections. We held meeting after meeting after meeting to discuss everything with the public. We posted details to the Internet and shared it with the media.
We held almost a dozen public meetings between the announcement and last month’s vote. Opponents routinely attended and detailed the reasons they felt we should not help bring the Braves here. We listened. And though we do not believe they are correct, we respected their concerns.
Individual Cobb County commissioners held their own public meetings to hear from both sides. Commissioners kept a careful tally of those who called and emailed their offices with opinions both for and against the stadium agreement. The numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of this deal.
We worked to ensure residential property taxes would not rise as a result of this project. Businesses near the new stadium will bear a substantial portion of its construction costs and the team itself will invest $280 million upfront and another $6.1 million annually for 30 years. These figures exclude the estimated $400 million the team plans to spend by creating an entertainment district around the new stadium.
Cumberland area businesses are willing to help support this agreement because they understand what it means for them. It means customers. The Board of Commissioners understands what it means for the county. It means jobs. It means visitors. It means an unparalleled economic boost that will benefit the entire county. It means funds that will help keep our tax rates low.
We could have held a year’s worth of meetings on this topic with the only result being that the team would go elsewhere. The fundamental objections of critics would remain, the huge support would remain, but the opportunity would be lost.
Instead, this will be a successful project for the public and the region, because we made the right choices for Cobb.
Tim Lee is chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.
Cobb board blocks voices of dissent
By Field Searcy
Recently, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners ratified a series of agreements between the county and the Atlanta Braves obligating Cobb taxpayers with $397 million in revenue bonds. Braves President John Schuerholz has publicly stated this deal would not have been completed if more time had been allowed for public scrutiny.
What the commission allowed on the night of the vote was a sickening display of affection as 12 supporters showered praise and admiration on the board for negotiating the public financing of a private sports stadium. This shows a lack of leadership and a serious breach of the public trust.
Knowing the contentious nature of this transaction and the magnitude of the obligation from the taxpayers, the commission should have made every effort to hear dissenting opinion. The AJC later reported that three of the commissioners were open to amending the rules to allow additional comment from the public. Any one of them could have made a motion. Once seconded, the chairman would have no choice but put the motion to a vote.
Chairman Tim Lee claims rules were followed. Yet the board’s Rules of Procedure were violated by releasing the agenda on Friday after 5 p.m., less than 5 days before a scheduled vote. Chairman Lee seems more concerned with getting the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce passed than he is with transparency and upholding the citizens’ rights.
Under the Georgia Constitution, the people have a right to petition those vested with the powers of government for redress of grievances. Based on that principle, the board of commissioners has a higher obligation to hear from those that disagree with the funding for the Braves stadium. Instead, they chose to disenfranchise the citizens of their right to speak.
From the very beginning, this deal was done in secret, rushed to a vote after only 12 days, and now the commission has blocked public comment. These are the actions of an oligarchy. Ironic that this was pushed through following Memorial Day. The Braves deal is just a symptom of a larger political disease running rampant through our governments.
Whether taxes are raised or money is shifted from other priorities, the fact remains this kind of public-private partnership is nothing more than corporate fascism, a merger of state and corporate interests benefiting the elite. That’s money that could be going to the general welfare of the county to fund schools, roads or other public services.
We elected the board of commissioners to represent the people, not the Chamber of Commerce and a multimillion-dollar media empire. No wonder public trust in government has deteriorated.
We’ve come to expect large document dumps after hours on holiday weekends from the federal government in Washington. Is this going to be the “Cobb way” of doing the peoples’ business? As usual, the deal is touted as a great model of public-private partnership that creates jobs and grows the economy. Isn’t it really another PPP that’s more about private profits, power, and politics than anything benefiting the public?
Field Searcy, a Cobb County resident, represents RepealRegionalism.com, an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition.