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 3 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.