So, who knew about Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee’s ties to a turf company before the Braves deal was announced?

Lee’s client sells products used in building stadiums worldwide, including the Gwinnett Braves arena

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When Tim Lee isn’t running Cobb County government, he’s promoting an artificial turf manufacturer. But the Cobb County commission chair doesn’t see that job conflicting with his newfound role as cheerleader-in-chief for a $672 million Atlanta Braves stadium. “I am so far removed from the process of what goes in what stadium, it’s not even funny,” Lee told me last week.

Lee’s non-political career has been in marketing, in this case overseeing web content for his business’s one client, the TenCate Grass division of a Netherlands-based multinational. TenCate Grass makes synthetic fibers and carpet backing for sports fields around the world; its website boasts that 13 NFL teams play or practice on its turf.

TenCate (pronounced tin-ka-ta) serves baseball clients as well, including the Braves, whose minor-league complex in Gwinnett County used the company’s materials in the retaining walls. (Lee said he was unaware of that fact). HKS, the Texas architectural firm that designed the Gwinnett project, also used TenCate in at least three NFL stadiums–Dallas, Indianapolis and New England.

Since Braves executives say HKS is a finalist to design the Cobb project, Lee’s ties to one of the team’s preferred suppliers would seem relevant to the public debate over the Braves’ new Field of Dreams. But Lee’s dual roles have raised no eyebrows, in part because no one much knew about them–a product of Georgia’s less-than-rigorous financial disclosure laws.

Once a year, elected officials in Georgia must disclose businesses in which they own a significant share or hold a fiduciary post. But lawyers, public relations professionals, and consultants who serve other businesses’ interests need not identify clients. Even if, as with Lee, they only have one.

Good-government advocates grumble periodically about making such relationships more transparent, most recently in 2010 when Earl Ehrhart, the veteran state legislator from Cobb, collected $40,000 as a consultant advising a nonprofit on how to get its bill through the Legislature. (Ehrhart, incidentally, was the guy who set up Lee’s first meeting with the Braves last July.)

Nothing has come of those suggestions.

Lee’s annual disclosures list his business, Summit View Marketing Inc., but make no mention of TenCate Grass. His LinkedIn page says he’s senior vice president for marketing for TenCate Grass, but Lee said that’s really a half-truth intended to make potential business contacts more comfortable with supplying information to him.

“I am not an employee of TenCate,” he said.

The chairman has spoken publicly about TenCate, but not in connection with sports stadiums. In 2010, he told the Marietta Daily Journal that the company makes protective clothing and materials for fire departments and other industries.

Regardless, Lee said last week, his duties for TenCate are in marketing, not sales. “My job is to bring awareness” of TenCate’s products, he said.

Going forward, it’s unclear whether those products will be used at the new stadium. The Braves’ deal with Cobb allows it to choose all of the construction contractors and says nothing about needing to pick low bidders.

Nor, even with $300 million of public money in the mix, are there guarantees that the procurement process will be transparent.

Last week, when I asked Lee whether the selection of contractors and suppliers would be subject to public scrutiny, he suggested I talk to the Braves.

Lee also referred me to the county’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Braves, which doesn’t address the question. Without public disclosure, the Braves could build a taxpayer-funded stadium without having to explain how it chose suppliers or how much it paid them.

Will Cobb County insist on a transparent procurement process? I asked.

That, apparently, remains to be seen, as Cobb and the Braves negotiate the fine print of their partnership over the next six to eight months.

“The answers,” he said, “will come out then.”

Atlanta magazine has engaged investigative journalist Jim Walls to examine the transparency and financial implications of the Atlanta Braves’ planned move to Cobb County. Read hundreds of similar investigative posts at Walls’s website, atlantaunfiltered.com.

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Comments

  1. VanillaDude

    December 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    What goes into a baseball stadium?
    Probably millions of things based on millions of decisions.
    Realistically, it would be nearly impossible for any elected public servant to NOT have some kind of ties to some kind of product used within a baseball stadium.

    So, the relevant question becomes – would Lee profit from the Braves selecting a TenCate product? That answer is obviously NO. Lee would profit from the Braves selecting a TenCate product about as much as he currently profits from a sports stadium selecting a TenCate product from anywhere around the world.

    Your attempts to make this out to be some kind of improper business dealing is exposing your ignorance of the real world. You obviously don’t know how marketing works, how international business deals work, how stadiums operate, what criteria is a relevant priority in selecting a stadium site, the number of independent contractors functioning within a Major League Baseball outfit, or how to be a real investigative journalist.

    Your ignorance on what Mr. Lee does, did, or will do regarding his personal employment should not, and does not, give you license to create fictions about his personal integrity.

    What will be your next surprise? Chairman Lee played Little League as a kid, so he must not like football?

    1. Angry Cobb Republican

      December 12, 2013 at 1:22 am

      VanillaDude, even if Commissioner Lee doesn’t profit directly from his association with TenCate, that doesn’t mean that his association with them doesn’t effect his impartiality. He still has an interest in their success. But that’s not the point. The point is that relationships like this need to be disclosed in order to have a full and proper debate on these issues. Given the lack of debate – and the lack of opportunity to vet the stadium proposal – a lot of people took the commissioner at his word that the county had done the proper leg work and that he had the best interests of the county at heart. Even if the commissioner’s on the up and up, people still need to know about these relationships in order to have a healthy skeptical debate on these issues.

      1. VanillaDude

        December 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm

        The current stadium uses turf. So what difference would it had made to Lee if the Braves stayed or moved? In either instance they would have bought turf.

        Suggesting that Lee benefitted from the stadium move because a company he represents on the Internet from the Netherlands could sell the new stadium turf, completely ignores the fact that if the Braves STAYED where they were, they would have also bought turf, right?

        So, you have to be a crackpot to believe that it mattered if the Braves moved or not – which it does not. If you believe Lee benefitted from the move based on his peripheral ties to a turf company, he would have benefitted EITHER WAY.

        And to answer the question above, “Who knew…?”

        The answer is, “anyone with a damn browser. Lee wasn’t hiding from anyone in what he does for a living. What Lee does for a living matters about as much regarding the Braves’ move to Cobb County about as much as Lee’s horoscope.”

  2. Cobb Citizen

    December 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    VanillaDude, how did Mr. Walls create fictions about Tim Lee’s personal integrity?
    Tim Lee is the one who admitted to half-truths, not being involved with the company while still claiming the title of VP. If anybody is attacking Lee’s integrity, seems he’s his worst enemy.
    Mr. Walls is simply reporting the facts as told to him. No need to attack him and his journalistic integrity. If you’re new to Atlanta, you may not know that he is one of the best investigative reporters around.
    Are you willing to share what your link to the stadium is?

    1. VanillaDude

      December 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      A good reporter would have recognized that if selling turf to the Braves was a priority to Mr. Lee, it would not have mattered if the Braves moved or not. The Braves still needed turf, regardless of where they played baseball.

      It is a stupid allegation. A good investigative reporter doesn’t do that.

      1. Cobb Citizen

        December 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        Again, where’s the allegation? A good investigative reporter doesn’t allege anything. They report the facts. Which is what was done here. You are interpreting the facts as an allegation which makes me wonder: why so darned defensive?

  3. Julez

    December 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Commission Chair Lee said he “expects to get the sod contract” at the Commissioner Birrell Town Hall held the monday before the vote.

    I was sitting in the audience and heard him say it.

    No one question him if this was a joke, the 129 people in the room heard it and believed him.

    1. VanillaDude

      December 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Lee has worked within the Georgia Carpet business for decades. No one in that business refers to outdoor sport turf as “sod”. Sports turf is a form of carpeting. Sod is a form of landscaping grass. There is a huge difference, especially to someone with decades of carpeting industry business. Lee is an internet marketing representative for a company out of the Netherlands which has nothing to do with sod and does not refer to their product that way.

      It is highly doubtful that the Chair said anything like your claim.

      1. Cobb Citizen

        December 16, 2013 at 9:45 pm

        You’re calling the above poster a liar? Who are you VanillaDude? Your bias is showing! How are you profiting from all this? If you think John Malone became a multi-billionaire by sharing his pie, you may be in for a rude awakening. Come out from behind your vanilla cloak!

        Also, Tim Lee is NOT an internet marketing representative according to his own quote. He says he is so far removed from the process that “it’s not even funny.” And that’s the only thing said that makes sense because none of this is funny.

  4. lee

    December 17, 2013 at 2:48 am

    another case of comments by those not doing their research or knowing what they are taking about…TenCate in the cases detailed for NFL stadiums made fiber that was then sold to end user turf companies for their turf products…tencate was not the direct supplier. of record for these projects. with the Atlanta stadium being MLB who use mostly natural grass surfaces, where is the conflict?? just a coincidence.

    1. Cobb Citizen

      December 18, 2013 at 12:17 am

      Okay, let’s say Tencate doesn’t do any business with this new stadium. Not one product bought. Doesn’t the fact that the Chairman of one of Georgia’s largest counties – and I believe he’s the highest paid Chairman in the state or one of the top in salaries – boasts about “half-truths” on his resume and financial interests? Or are you so accustomed to lying – excuse me, half truthful – politicians that you don’t care anymore?

      1. VanillaDude

        December 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm

        You are being played as a rube by this publication, which is certainly capable of a thorough investigation before putting out this garbage. Nothing would suit these people more than watch the GOP and the Tea Party fight over rumors about “who knew” what and when.

        Fact is, Cobb C0unty’s success over the past twenty years galls these people and they would dearly love to watch a fight develop between those who made Cobb preferable to live in over their beloved Atlanta and the Tea Party.

        This story is a hatchet job about someone the Democrats don’t want to see succeed. They would love to see you guys get Lee’s scalp, so they don’t need to.

        Don’t be a prude or a rube.