Viewpoints

That's one helluva Christmas present!

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What’s the greatest Christmas present you ever received? If you’re Colorado-based Liberty Media, it’s likely your answer is the $200+ million dollars residents of Cobb County, Ga., are shelling out to build your new stadium.

While the numbers and details vary, no one disputes that moving the Atlanta Braves franchise from its present locale, Atlanta/Fulton County’s Turner Field, to suburban Cobb County will cost a pretty penny. But consensus is mixed on just exactly who’ll be footing the bill. To date, the franchise has agreed to pay half the cost of the $400+ million facility. The other half? Will, apparently, be shouldered by Cobb residents who, until a few weeks ago when the finalized plans were announced, never even knew the change was coming.

Proponents of the move insist residents won’t be seeing any increases on their tax bill. New taxes on services (like rental cars) will be levied, and money will be allocated from bond issues, The Talking Heads promise. Nothing will change, unless it’s for the better, They assure. And so confident are They that They didn’t even give county residents the opportunity to vote on the issue.

Yes, without democratic vote and behind closed doors, private enterprise consorted with public leadership and now, somehow, residents are being expected to foot the $200+ million bill on an extraneous facility (Turner Field is only 20 years old. Wrigley Field? Will celebrate its 100th birthday next year. Fenway Park? Presently going strong at 101.) – all in the hope that revenue brought by the venue will benefit the tax base, and not just line Liberty Media’s already considerably deep pockets.

That, my friends, is one helluva Christmas present!

And while this particular present might come back to benefit the giver as well as the recipient, residents are questioning whether the monumental gift of public funds for private enterprise was marred from the get-go. For starters, the franchise is being moved from a largely minority-populated, urban area serviced by mass transit (rail to bus), to a more racially homogenous, affluent county, in an area not serviced by public rail. The Braves argue they’re moving closer to their fan base. Locals worry there might be uglier motives behind the move.

And therein lies a microcosm that both exemplifies and points to the greater issue, at least from the perspective of this editorialist. The problem with this decision – whether it brings more wealth to Cobb or no – is that it wasn’t Cobb’s decision at all. As a representative democracy, we, the electorate, vote in candidates who, we believe, will best represent our interests (not the interests of private enterprise). Included in that expectation is the idea that we should be “kept in the loop” about decisions that will vastly affect our way of life. That government transparency will be such as to let us know when something big is coming, and let us know with enough time to voice our opinions/questions/comments/concerns on the matter. That government will listen to us prior to making a decision.

But with Cobb and the Braves, it’s been “daddy knows best.” Without consulting the Christmas Wish List, leadership and (ironically named) Liberty Media have decided amongst themselves what will best benefit Cobb’s collective children. And we have been told, unceremoniously, to eat our vegetables and go to bed. Because Santa Claus comes tonight. And daddy has one helluva present under the tree this year.           

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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