Before Tuesday’s vote on bond financing agreements for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, Cobb County commissioners refused to let critics voice concerns. A brief standoff ensued, as several members of the advocacy group Cobb Citizens for Governmental Transparency (CGT) stood to protest before police escorted them from the room. We were curious to hear what CGT might have said if given the chance, so we asked representatives of the group whether they’d come to the Cobb chambers with talking points in hand. As it turns out, they had.
CGT, a coalition of groups ranging from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Sierra Club to the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots and the Cobb Taxpayers Association, has been pushing for more scrutiny and a public referendum on the county's deal with the Braves. The group had wanted the commissioners to consider these five factors:
- The openness of the decision-making process to public input
- Doubts about undisclosed Braves-related costs to the public
- A need for more public hearings before the Braves deal is finalized
- Public sentiment against using taxpayers’ money to bring the Braves to Cobb
- Public sentiment against using a sales tax to fund so-called “Bus Rapid Transit” between Kennesaw and the stadium area
To download CGT’s talking points memo prepared for Tuesday's meeting, click here.
For the acronym-impaired, here’s a quick guide to the abbreviations used in the talking points:
BOC = Board of Commissioners
BOE = Board of Ethics
MOU = Memorandum of Understanding between Cobb County & the Braves
DACC = Development Authority of Cobb County
BRT = Bus Rapid Transit
All references to public opinion come from a recent poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 14.
We also obtained the talking points prepared by Larry Savage, an open government advocate who ran against Tim Lee for the Cobb County Commission chairmanship in both 2010 and 2012. He, too, was not allowed to speak at Tuesday’s meeting,
To download the talking points Savage prepared for the meeting, click here.
We also wanted to learn a little more about just how the dissension shutout was organized. Stadium supporters lined up five hours before the meeting to claim the 12 available public comment slots. That maneuver was the brainchild of John Loud, the owner of a Kennesaw security company who organized the booster group Cobb Home of the Braves.
“I’m the one that actually made phone calls over the last several days and invited each and every one of them and set the plan together and said, ‘Let’s all get out there and show that we want to support [the Braves],’” Loud said in an interview.
Citizens may sign up for public comment at commission meetings on a first-come, first-served basis. Loud said Braves supporters couldn’t be sure when opponents might arrive at the commission meeting to get on the list. “So we just picked a time and said when we get there, they’ll either be there or they won’t,” he said.
The first Braves boosters lined up at 1:45 p.m. to speak at the 7 p.m. meeting.
For even more back and forth on this week's vote and the Cobb Commission meeting, read the op-eds by John Schuerholz of the Braves and Terry Taylor of Common Cause Georgia in the AJC.
Representative quote from Schuerholz:
The responses that I have heard have all been the same: We are
delighted about your Cobb County project. We can’t wait for you to
open. We are excited about going there. We are excited about buying
season tickets. So there is a real positive response.
And from Taylor:
The Tuesday county commission meeting did not allow for public
conversation. All the speaking slots were taken by stadium boosters
who lined up several hours ahead of time. It’s the same tactic used in
earlier meetings to ensure that their voice dominated. That’s nice for
them, but many people don’t have the luxury of taking half a day off
of work. And even if citizens had a chance to speak, the meeting
format did not permit questions and answers.