Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee unilaterally began working on the Braves move to Cobb County a year ago, by hiring an attorney off the books to lead negotiations of the largest economic development deal in the county’s history.
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Fall 2011: The Braves hold preliminary discussions with then-Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman over renewing the team’s lease at Turner Field, future development around the stadium and funding concerns.
June 2012: Atlanta begins formal negotiations with the team.
January 2013: The Braves inform the city of their desire for the city to assume control of Turner Field, instead of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, with which the team had clashed over maintenance issues.
March 20: Braves executive vice president Mike Plant sends note to Deputy Chief Operating Officer Hans Utz expressing that the team is “not feeling real good about how we are being passed around.” Utz relays the message in a memo to city leaders.
April 17: Mayor Kasim Reed meets with Plant and Braves CEO Terry McGuirk, who want to discuss stadium issues and ask for the land around the stadium. City officials say the land must be sold through a competitive bidding process. The Braves decline. Parties turn their sights toward crafting a redevelopment proposal.
May: Utz gives the Braves a counteroffer for how to pursue redevelopment, listing three paths for moving forward.
July: Utz and Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui meet with Plant to discuss the project, expecting the Braves to have selected one of the three paths. They clash again over the Braves’ desire to control the redevelopment bidding process.
Braves officials hold their first discussions with Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who then secretly recruits attorney Dan McRae to begin negotiations with the team. Lee bypasses the county attorney’s office and McRae begins work without signing a contract.
August-October: City officials, the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority and the Braves negotiate improvements to sewer drainage problems at Turner Field. By now, Braves and Cobb officials have developed five proposed budgets for a new Braves stadium.
September: The Braves give the city a 16-point proposal outlining desires for lease renewals and redevelopment. The team has indicated its desire to help craft the request for proposal and select a developer.
Oct. 14: Braves attorney Greg Heller sends McRae the first draft of a proposed Memorandum of Understanding, which outlines the parameters of the stadium deal in Cobb County.
Oct. 21-Nov. 10: Four revised drafts of the MOU are passed between Heller and McRae; Cobb County Attorney Deborah Dance and commissioners are notified of the Braves negotiations just days before the public announcement.
Nov. 5: Reed is re-elected to a second term as mayor.
Nov. 6: Plant sends Reed a text message asking for a meeting.
Nov. 7: Braves leaders inform Reed of their plan to relocate the team to Cobb County in 2017.
Nov. 11: The Braves announce their move to the public.
Nov. 14: McRae’s firm, Seyfarth Shaw, is added to the draft MOU as bond and project counsel for the county.
Nov. 16: The Cobb County attorney removes Seyfarth Shaw references from the draft.
Nov. 12-25: At least 24 revised drafts of the MOU are circuilated among lawyers, county and Braves officials.
Nov. 26: The Cobb County Commission ratifies the MOU by a 4-1 vote.
Sources: Documents obtained by the AJC from Cobb and Atlanta; AJC reporting
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee answering questions Aug. 8 about his off-the-books hiring of attorney Dan McRae to negotiate the preliminary stadium deal with the Braves. For the audio of the entire interview, go to ajc.com
Why did you hire McRae to lead negotiations? “I didn’t choose him to be point man. When the Braves first came to us to talk about this prospect, clearly it was a big project and it had a lot of components to it. I wanted to bounce it off someone who had experience in the bond funding market that could help me understand if it was even feasible to try and do something like this…But he was not the lead negotiator for the county at all.”
Who drafted the original MOU? “That’s because they have experience. They’ve done MOUs for other stadiums so we figured why don’t you start, put it together, send it to Dan, see if that matches what we’ve talked about, then eventually it made its way over to (County Attorney) Deborah Dance, who actually was the lead on it … once we got to the point where we needed to make it real.”
But the core negotiations didn’t involve Dance, did they? “Well, the core of the MOU, I mean, the Braves took an MOU they’ve had in the past and said let’s start here, tweak it to what we’ve had conversations about. So that’s not negotiations, per se. That’s coming up with a document and making it reflective of what our conversation was so that when — the MOU, I guess I’m assuming that you’re assuming that the MOU was a negotiation. … We didn’t negotiate back and forth with the MOU. … I consider it him making sure the MOU reflected what we talked about and was something that could be legally supported.”
You don’t consider that negotiations? “No I don’t because Dan was helping us determine if the financial model could work, and then when we finally figured out that this was the model we were going to try and move forward … let’s put it on paper, he worked to put it on paper.”
Why didn’t he have a contract? He was someone I sought out, saying would you mind helping me figure this out, just to see if we could move forward. Just as a subject-matter expert. And we never had a conversation about compensation.”
The county attorney didn’t know about the negotiations. Who was providing you with legal advice, if not Dan McRae? Until my staff … got involved, everything up until that point … was as if you would do a feasibility gut check — is this something we should even move forward with? And he played a role in that, to include can we get to the point of an MOU that we can all agree on, that we can bring forward.”
So when talking about negotiations with the Braves, was that primarily you? “Primarily, yeah. In putting together what I thought would be best for the county to present to the commission for approval.”
And McRae’s role in that? “Just helping me understand what I could and couldn’t do financially.”
Isn’t that the role of an attorney? “I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know what their job is.”
Why didn’t you ask the county attorney for help? “I chose not to do that.”
Why? “We were having — this was a very — evidently this is a bigger deal than I thought it was at the time. And I was working with a small group of people trying to get an assessment whether or not this makes sense to go forward, by involving as few people as possible.”
Not the county attorney? “Let’s say I never knew Dan, and I never knew his capability, his reputation … then sure I would have called Deborah and asked who do you recommend. But I knew Dan and I didn’t want to hire him, I just wanted to get his advice: does this make sense to move to the next level. It’s not any different than you calling your uncle who happens to be a master plumber (to) say look I’m thinking about adding an outside spigot.”
Did you promise McRae he’d be bond counsel? No.
Are you aware Seyfarth Shaw was written into the MOU as bond counsel? It’s my understanding now. At the time it was done I was unaware of it.”
Do you know who did that? What I’ve been told is Dan inserted that language.
Why? I don’t know why. You’d have to chat with him.”
Is that a concern to you? No. Because I have an approved MOU, which doesn’t have him in it.”
About Dan McRae
Occupation: A partner in the Atlanta office of Seyfarth Shaw, McRae leads the team that handles financing and investing in projects.
Education: 1973 graduate of Emory University School of Law
Professional experience: Known for his expertise in finance and incentives, McRae is frequently retained by companies or communities to help them obtain successful project locations. He has helped members of Georgia’s general assembly draft economic development legislation that has become law in the state of Georgia.He is a faculty member for the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute, which trains development authority board members.
Source: Seyfarth Shaw web page
How local governments spend taxpayer money is a hallmark of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigative journalism. Previous coverage has examined previously undisclosed financing and legal costs of the deal. Read related coverage at our premium subscriber website, MyAJC.com.
HOW WE GOT THE STORY
Cobb taxpayers have hundreds of millions of dollars riding on the Braves new stadium deal. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters have been tracking the deal for months to keep tabs on the stadium costs and obligations public officials are making in their name. For this story, Cobb County Watchdog Reporter Dan Klepal obtained previously undisclosed documents that show the intitial negotiations between Cobb County and the Braves. The documents provide the first glimpse into how the deal evolved, and led to questions that revealed that Cobb Chairman Tim Lee hired an attorney without the county attorney or commissioners knowledge or permission to negotiate the deal. The AJC interviewed lawyers, stadium finance experts, economists and Cobb officials to help understand the agreements.
Coming Monday: The AJC has obtained documents that give the public its first glimpse into how the deal between Cobb and the Braves evolved. The AJC explains what the documents say and how they were kept secret for nearly a year.