Last night’s Cobb County Commission meeting felt more like a Chamber-backed groundbreaking for the new Braves stadium than a public forum. Before the call to order, the room was packed with suits, ties, and a few nametags attached to people talking about business, glad-handing, and passing out cards. The only things missing were the souvenir hard hats and shiny shovels.
Commission Chairman Tim Lee’s celebration was halted shortly after the gavel fell when a small band of dissenters tried to crash the party.
“Mr. Chairman, please,” said Ben Williams with the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Would you please change the protocol for tonight?”
Apparently the twelve slots allotted for public comment on the pending legal agreements between the Braves and the county had been filled by supporters who lined up before 2 p.m. for the 7 p.m. meeting, shutting out any potential dissenters.
“Would you let us speak tonight?” Williams asked again.
“No,” said Chairman Lee.
And after a brief back-and-forth, when it became clear that the vocal minority was determined to be heard one way or the other, police escorted them from the room, and the festivities commenced all over again. The hall, filled with boosters wearing passed-out navy “Cobb: Home of the Braves” T-shirts over their work wear were treated to more than an hour of self-congratulation, first from the twelve commenters, all proud supporters of the new stadium, all white, eight of whom were wearing those same navy T-shirts. One after another, they came to the podium at the front of the room and heralded the deal as a win for the entire region, a hit for local business, a home run for education, a grand slam for county pride. And when they ran out of tired baseball metaphors, they applauded the Commission for its transparency—never mind that some documents pertaining to the measures up for vote weren’t released until after 6 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. One speaker, a lawyer, took the opportunity to explain to the absent opposition that he cared enough to let himself off work early—giving up a few billable hours—so he could be among the first in line to speak.
The few dissenters left in the audience sat on their hands, some muttering profanities under their breath. One woman let slip a little too loudly that the lock-step approach of the supporters and the enthusiasm with which they regurgitated the county’s “propaganda” reminded her of Nazi Germany, which drew nasty looks and indignation from those within earshot.
When the issues—seven separate pacts providing for the funding, construction, and operation of the $622-million facility—were finally at hand and the commissioners put to their voting buttons, official opposition was at a minimum. Of the seven separate agreements heard, all but one was passed unanimously. The lone vote against came from Lisa Cupid, commissioner from District 4, on the bond that would allow the county to borrow up to $397 million for the project. Cupid clarified that while she supported the issue, she was concerned about the late presentation of public information. “My vote will reflect that concern,” she said.
But at meeting’s end, Chairman Lee did not seem to have a care in the world. He declared that “we had a good night,” back-slapped the county’s legal team for its work, warned those in attendance not to believe what they’re reading in the local media, and adjourned, releasing the party to spill out of the chambers and into the young Marietta night.