With one ethics charge against the Cobb Commission dismissed, critics file a second

Long-shot filings with the Cobb Board of Ethics have generated media coverage but little else

Critics of Cobb County’s $314 million deal with the Atlanta Braves moved on to round two on Wednesday, filing a new ethics complaint against Cobb commissioners just hours before their first such complaint was summarily dismissed.

Some skeptics have threatened to challenge the county’s public-funding plan for the Braves’ new stadium in court. So far, though, a coalition of Tea Party conservatives, neighborhood activists, and good-government advocates has confined its tactics to long-shot filings with the Cobb Board of Ethics, generating media coverage but little else.

The group’s first ethics foray, filed by former commission candidate Larry Savage, alleged commissioners violated their oath of office, and therefore the Cobb ethics code, by approving a Braves deal that is illegal and unconstitutional.

The commission exceeded its authority, Savage charged, when it agreed in November to incur new bond debt without voter approval and to impose taxes in new special districts to pay for it. Plans to pay off revenue bonds that will be used to finance the stadium with taxes that won’t be generated by the project, he alleged, will also violate the revenue bond clause of the Georgia Constitution.

The ethics board made short work last night of Savage’s complaint, taking just 26 minutes to convene, approve minutes, swear in two new members, listen to their legal marching orders, and let every member comment. Neither Savage nor county attorney Deborah Dance, who had filed the commissioners’ response, was permitted to speak.

Most members said county commissioners should not be brought up on ethics charges for using their own judgment and following their staff’s legal advice. Savage’s grievances, they said, should more appropriately be aired in the courts.

“He may certainly have recourse elsewhere but it is not here with this board,” board member Darrell Sutton said.

The one dissenting vote Wednesday night came from the Reverend Walter Moon, the commission’s appointee, who said he wasn’t convinced the commission didn’t know beforehand that the special districts could be a problem.

The board’s six other members are appointed by homeowners groups, the elections and civil service boards, county employees, and the Cobb County Bar.

The coalition’s newest complaint, filed by member Gary Pelphrey, alleges eight ethics violations primarily related to the secrecy and speed with which commission Chairman Tim Lee negotiated the Braves deal and orchestrated the commission’s approval of it.

Pelphrey said comments by several board members showed they confused their duty—determining whether the commissioners’ actions were unethical—with the legal obligations of a court of law.

“An offense can be, simultaneously, a violation of the law and of one’s ethics code,” he said. “The ethics code is, by definition, personal, and violations must be considered with one’s own standards, not by some mob majority.”