East Cobb lawyer Susan McCoy hoped “something exciting” would happen when she asked the feds to investigate Cobb County’s bond deal with the Atlanta Braves. “I didn’t realize that would be my garden and fence burning up,” she said.
McCoy informed Cobb County officials earlier this month that she’d asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to look into the county’s proposed $397 million bond sale to help build a new stadium for the Braves. Speaking at the county commission’s regular meeting, she also urged anyone with inside knowledge about the deal to contact the SEC.
That passionate plea was covered here and splashed across the front page of the next day’s Marietta Daily Journal, an unexpected but welcome shot of publicity for critics of Cobb’s stadium financing plan.
Early Thursday morning, someone set fire to the white picket fence outside McCoy’s home of 18 years. The blaze destroyed large sections of the fence and adjacent shrubbery, damage that she said could run into the thousands of dollars.
Cobb arson investigators suspect a flammable liquid was used, but they’re waiting for confirmation from lab tests due to be completed this week. Until then, fire lieutenant Dan Dupree said, the blaze is classified as “suspicious.”
Investigators are also reviewing video surveillance recordings made by McCoy’s home security system. “It’s impossible to tell at this point” whether the incident was related to her public comments on the Braves, Dupree said.
McCoy said that she believes the incident was an attempt to “send me a message,” fueled by recent public statements by stadium backers to minimize the extent of opposition to the deal. Cobb Chamber of Commerce President Ben Mathis, for instance, described critics as a “bitter minority” in the Marietta Daily Journal, while commission candidate John Weatherford called them “the CAVE people: Come Out Against Virtually Everything.”
“I don’t think they actually lit the match,” McCoy said. But comments like those, she said, are “creating an environment where people believe doing something like this is okay.”
McCoy said that her request for a federal probe was inspired by the SEC’s ongoing investigation of $500 million in public financing for the Miami Marlins’ new baseball stadium. In 2009, when Miami-Dade County okayed the deal, Marlins’ management insisted the team couldn’t afford a larger share of stadium costs. The club refused to open its books, though; later, leaked documents showed the club had turned a $49 million profit during the two years it lobbied for the public subsidy.
Officials interviewed by the SEC told the Miami Herald that the agency wants to know whether elected officials or prospective bond-buyers were given false or misleading financial information. Mayor Tomas Regelado told the Herald that investigators also asked whether he’d met with anyone “outside the Sunshine” while the stadium deal was pending.
The Braves’ negotiations for a new stadium were limited to a handful of county officials who were sworn to secrecy. Since the move became public, Atlanta magazine has reported that commissioners’ briefings on the deal skirted Georgia’s open meetings law and that assumptions about the stadium’s fiscal benefits were questionable. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reported in August that a private attorney, hired outside purchasing procedures to negotiate on Cobb’s behalf, had named his own firm to collect $4 million in fees in an early version of the stadium agreement.
Critics complain that Cobb exceeded its powers in imposing new fees and taxes to pay for the Braves bonds and understated transportation, public safety and other stadium-related costs.
Those and other issues, McCoy said, could lead the SEC to conclude the proposed bond sale violates federal securities laws
Lee offered last week to meet privately McCoy to discuss her concerns. But, she said, county attorney Deborah Dance called Friday to express regrets about the fire and retract Lee’s offer in light of the possible SEC inquiry.
McCoy, before taking off Friday to give a statement to arson investigators, spoke wistfully of the damage to her property and her sense of security.
“I always wanted a white picket fence,” she told me. But, “what’s actually more precious to me [were] the evergreens on either side of my driveway. I planted them when they were really teeny tiny. It’s kinda sad to see them go.”