The deal was done. Every person packed into the Cobb County Board of Commissioners meeting last night knew that the officials were moving forward with their shotgun marriage to the Braves, whose leaders were sitting in the front row. Two of the commissioners had already voiced support of Chairman Tim Lee’s agreement, fresh out of the smoke-filled room. Three votes out of five. The math was simple.
Only one formality remained: The commissioners had to idle their bulldozers and steamrollers for one hour to sit through public commentary. To act like they were paying attention while businesspeople wearing navy Braves t-shirts over their button-downs and ties eagerly pledged their blind faith to their leaders, despite having only fifteen days since the surprise announcement of the deal to review the scant details. To act like they cared while the other half of the speakers scolded them for the opaqueness with which they’d handled things.
“Frankly, I’m disappointed in the veil of secrecy and the rush,” said one man. Another man said, “I’d like to meet my marriage partner before going to bed on the wedding night.”
The hesitant minority pleaded for more time, a sixty-day reprieve, for more studies to be done, for more information to be shared. More time to think about the $300 million-plus in tax dollars that the commission was about to commit.
But Chairman Lee had a stadium to build. At the stroke of 9 p.m., with the public forum closed, he shrugged off the insurgents by launching into a four-minute speech congratulating the commissioners and their staffs, the county workers, and the citizens for working under such hurried conditions to help realize “this great and wonderful opportunity.” There was no acknowledgement of the public concern for the deal or the timeframe. No asking his skeptical constituents for their trust. No reassurances. No apologies.
The stage was set for a slam-dunk, 5-0 vote. But then, commissioner Lisa Cupid of District 4 cleared her throat into the microphone. “I’m not opposed to the Braves coming,” she said. “Tonight’s vote is not just about bringing the Braves here, it’s about how we’re going to do it.”
In an impassioned speech, Cupid gave voice to those frustrated citizens who felt their reservations about the deal were about to be paved over—you know, what an official is elected to do.
“Some of my concerns still linger,” she said. “The reasons offered for why we can’t wait…just don’t make sense to me.” She referred to the pressure she has come under to push the project along. “It frightens me, to be honest, the number of threats I received,” she said. “If you wanted a 5-0 vote, you could have gotten it easy. But I will never allow myself to be bullied.”
But the eruption of applause that followed Cupid’s sermon quickly abated. The other commissioners resumed patting each other on the back—a prelude to a lightning 4-1 vote. Then Chairman Lee was on to other business.