Viewpoints

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Didn’t I warn you?

In my commentary for the magazine’s December edition, I tisk-tisked the shady public/private dealings regarding the new Braves stadium. Well, folks, it appears our friends in Cobb County, Ga., leadership have once again outdone themselves – this time by refusing to allow residents to voice concerns or disapproval on the issue. And why should residents be allowed to speak? It’s only gonna cost the county – and its citizens –  $392 million.

According to Deadspin, last night, Cobb Commissioners voted, 5-0, to devote $392 million to the new stadium, which is set to open in 2017, with the operating agreement allowing the county to borrow up to $397 million. The Braves will chip in $230 million.

At the supposed public forum, only pro-park persons were allowed to speak. Twelve persons spoke on the proposal, and all 12 were pro-ballpark people and business interests, which, according to Deadspin, “had supporters lining up to nab the speaking slots more than five hours before the meeting.

It’s not that opposition voices didn’t attempt to be heard. As Deadspin reports, “Several critics of the deal made their way toward the front of the commission meeting room and asked to be given an opportunity to speak. For a minute, the scene turned tense when they would not relent the floor. They were critical of the process of limiting the floor to a dozen public speakers for such an important vote.”

You know what? I’ll just let Barry Petchesky tell you the rest:

“One of those critics, Rich Pellegrino, said the process was stacked against people who couldn't leave work early and spend hours in line waiting to speak. Pellegrino, with the group Citizens for Governmental Transparency, said he arrived at about an hour before the meeting but it was too late to get on the list to speak.

"We're working people," Pellegrino said. "We're not on corporate welfare. It's a slap in the face."

Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee said its rules were followed "in the best interest" of everyone in attendance.

Some of those against the stadium deal were forcibly removed from the room. The meeting was over within two hours, the commissioners approving everything without debating or taking questions.

The Braves have been masters at brokering no dissent:

• When Atlanta balked at replacing the nearly 20-year-old Turner Field, team executives approached Cobb County—secretly, because as the team president said, if people knew about it, they would have said no.

• The funding was secured through some creative taxation, specifically chosen to avoid requiring a public referendum; Cobb County residents were never allowed to vote on giving $397 million to a baseball team.

• The actual vote on the operating agreement was only announced after 6 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day—concerned parties had just a long weekend to examine the details of a massive deal.

And the deal still contains questions and landmines. Cobb County has committed just $14 million to transportation improvements that are likely to cost at least 10 times that. The bond measures, released for the first time on Friday night, reveal that the Braves do not actually guarantee the $400 million in private development around the stadium that they had touted, rendering one of the project's biggest selling points imaginary long before ground is even broken.

This is going to cost Cobb County taxpayers well more than $400 million. But will the new ballpark provide an economic benefit in return? Well, there's a first time for everything.” [all from Deadspin]

So there you have it. A glowing example about how not to run a municipal ship. To read my initial lambasting of this behind-closed-doors consortium, click here.

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What's Viewpoints?

It features the Editor's Viewpoints and contributed commentaries.

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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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