|December 11, 2014||The Agitator #146: Divided we stand||2 comments|
|December 04, 2014||The Agitator #145: E pluribus unum||6 comments|
|November 26, 2014||The Agitator #144: Mr. Lee and Benghazi||no comments|
|November 19, 2014||The Agitator #143: Tim Lee's three page (non) apology||no comments|
|November 13, 2014||The Agitator #142: Balancing the budget||2 comments|
|November 06, 2014||The Agitator #141: Batter up!||4 comments|
|November 02, 2014||The Agitator #140: It may be your turn at bat||no comments|
|October 23, 2014||The Agitator #139: Mr. Lee and the ethics hearing||2 comments|
|October 16, 2014||The Agitator #138: Mr. Lee and the SPLOST||3 comments|
|October 09, 2014||The Agitator #137: Mr. Lee and his Russian doll||3 comments|
This week’s commentary is a companion piece to last week’s Agitator #145: E pluribus unum. I hadn’t expected to write it until I saw a posting on Facebook earlier this week that became the impetus for it. This is the quote from the writer. “Did anyone see the shot of NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio standing behind Al Sharpton? It sure reminded me of an organ grinder and his monkey! Anyone else who saw it get the same impression?”
I know the author of this comment, a former public official, and we’ve had many email exchanges over the years that were about our different world views and what we perceive America to be all about. The last count that I did showed eight “Likes” to the comment. One of them is from a Cobb elected official.
I am no apologist for Al Sharpton and others who never fail to know the conclusions of a potential racial incident before the facts and evidence have been adduced. Sharpton has made a lot of money from his self-promotion and high profile, and the NYT recently reported that he owes $4.5 million in back taxes to the federal government and New York State. That said, whatever attacks on him should be on the merits of a good argument, not directed at his skin color.
It never ceases to amaze me how mostly conservative media and many well-intentioned whites think that Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others are the “black leaders”, and that these so-called leaders should act more responsibly. Yet I’ve never been able to identify the white leaders. Is it Donald Trump? Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz? Rush Limbaugh? Sean Hannity?
How in the world can we ever hope to resolve racial differences when educated people, people who hold office, make and agree with racist comments like the aforementioned? How can a black person sit in a room with a politician that s/he knows to have agreed with a statement referring to Sharpton as a monkey? Would it be racist of the black person to just maybe believe that s/he won’t get a fair shake from the white official?
We will never get passed our past if we can’t talk to each other. It’s bad enough that racism and other hatreds and fears of different groups permeate our society. Witness some of the citizen comments from Kennesaw concerning the request by a Muslim group for approval of a prayer room in an almost vacant shopping center. But when a public official engages in that sort of behavior, there is a loss of confidence not only in that person, but in the government that that person is part of.
From the conservatives we hear that America has proven it has put racism behind it by electing a black president, a black senator in South Carolina, a black congresswoman in Utah, and many more. We are told repeatedly from conservative “leaders” that it’s about ideology, not race. Maybe so. But then again when two white public officials, one still holding office, both educated, can “like” a comment that is racist to the core, I suspect that they are not alone.
For sure our country has come a long way since the 1960s. But we have more distance to travel. Perhaps our unofficial motto should be, “Divided We Stand” until we somehow learn to live with each other. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we should be able to at least be civil and not resort to base insults that are a remnant of some of our uglier history.
I recently read an opinion piece in the Washington Post from a man named Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer writes novels for a living, lives in Boston, and never served in the military. His son, after graduating from a private high school, joined the marines. Schaeffer readily admits that he never really thought about those who defended our country. He was never part of that establishment, and none of the people he associates with have connections to the military.
Schaeffer (I am paraphrasing) goes on to talk about the indifference of so many, especially the privileged, to those Americans who suit up, who put their lives on the line. Schaeffer asks, “…have we just gotten used to having somebody else defend us? What is the future of our democracy when the sons and daughters of the janitors at our elite universities are far more likely to be put in harm's way than are any of the students whose dorms their parents clean?”
I remember well during Vietnam, and before, that Americans still experienced one of the two great levelers of our society: a public school education and military service, many of whom were drafted. Young men from all over, from different races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, financial means, regions, educational backgrounds---all got their heads shaved, wore the same uniform, performed the same demeaning tasks, learned to pull together, and ultimately became a fighting force where none of the foregoing differences mattered. Anyone who underwent that experience will tell you that it lasts a lifetime. And America was better for it.
Today is different. Except perhaps for the officer corps among the branches of service, the large majority of those signing up for military service are those who need jobs, have no real hope of upward mobility because of their limited education, and are looking for a way out of their predicament. For them the armed forces offer training opportunities second to none, but the real question, as I see it, is whether as a nation we should have to depend on the less fortunate to protect our country. Shouldn’t every American have skin in this?
When I got back from Vietnam I was not spit on or cursed at. I don’t know any Vietnam veteran personally that was. But what I did experience, as did many of my fellow veterans, was the question of why I served in the first place. Wasn’t I able to get a deferment, teach school, or become a clergyman until I passed the draft age? Some jokingly (or maybe seriously) wondered about my IQ. It never bothered me to respond that I had my own reasons for committing to three and one half years of active duty, for volunteering for Vietnam.
Today, most draft age Vietnam era men at some point will have to answer the question(s) from their kids and grandkids: Were you in military? Were you in the war? For those who opposed the war for their own moral reasons, I think their answer is easy to live with. For those who have staked out a lifetime of conservative political values, who have always been gung ho about our military involvements (to include any number of prominent politicians), it might be harder to explain without failing the red face test. Patriotism is more commonly expressed with bumper stickers and flag lapel pins while the unemployment rate for veterans remains higher than for most Americans.
We have lost something as a nation where the younger generation is more frequently isolated through attending private schools, homogenous neighborhoods, no interest in serving in the military, and from all the technology that has undermined real conversation that used to be so common in coffee shops, civic clubs, and other gathering groups. I am not the first to suggest that some kind of national service should be required, whether military or civilian. It might be the first step toward lowering barriers with people who are different from us.
From the inception of our country’s birth our motto has been E pluribus unum, out of many, one. It magnificently captures what makes the United States of America unique. We are the lesser for having lost the ethos of those three Latin words.
In the past week there was a confluence of two major events. The House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and with a majority of Republican members, found no conspiracies or wrongdoing by White House, State Department or Pentagon officials in connection with the Benghazi tragedy. In the second event the Cobb Ethics Board ended its probe into allegations of wrongdoing by Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee after the complainant, Tom Cheek agreed to dismiss his complaint. Lee took this as being cleared, which to my way of thinking isn’t exactly the case.
The House Intelligence Committee conducted a very thorough investigation. They reviewed countless thousands of documents, examined many witnesses under oath, and sifted through other information before they reached their conclusion. I don’t know how much that investigation cost, but the remaining Special Investigation ordered by House Speaker John Boehner, and chaired by Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), reportedly has budgeted about $3 million. The Gowdy team will certainly review the House Intelligence Committee report, and in all likelihood, will duplicate a lot of the Intelligence Committee’s work.
There are a small number of naysayers who don’t put any credence into the House Intelligence Committee report. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is leading that charge, and has called the findings “garbage” and “crap.” Graham had previously staked out a position that there was all sorts of misconduct, misfeasance, malfeasance, what have you, associated with the deaths at Benghazi, how it all could have been prevented, and that very high level people tried to cover up their crimes. I’m not sure what it would take to convince Graham that many of his own fellow Republicans just might be honest and fair. Graham reminds me of those that demand(ed) a grand jury indictment in Ferguson and Staten Island when none has heard one piece of evidence. This doesn’t say much for Graham as a lawyer.
Meanwhile, closer to home, after Tom Cheek chose to dismiss his complaint, Lee and his supporters rejoiced proclaiming that he had never done anything wrong in the first place. What we know, though, is that no investigative body (that we know of) ever looked into Cheek’s allegations, never questioned key witnesses, never obtained records that would require a subpoena. One has to wonder what lawyer Dan McRae might say about what he and Tim Lee discussed, which would include questions concerning circumventing the Open Records Act to confirm their attorney/client relationship. It would also encompass questions about whether McRae and his law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, were told that they could expect to get the $4 million bond contract for their uncompensated work in preparing the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that was the basis for the county commission approving the Braves deal. And that is just the start for a comprehensive investigation. My guess is that there will be more to come only because there are too many obvious unanswered questions that deserve answers.
The Braves’ move to Cobb County is the largest business deal ever if it lives up to its hype and potential. Four hundred million dollars of public money has been committed to make it happen. I don’t question for a millisecond that secrecy surrounding acquiring the land for the stadium was paramount and a normal occurrence in such transactions. I do question how it was done, though, and like Benghazi, the citizens of Cobb County deserve to know the truth concerning the issues that have surfaced since all the happy talk was packaged and delivered to the public. The last of the ethics complaints has gone away. But that may prove to be just the beginning.
Tim Lee is a professional politician having won at least three elections. That’s why it was surprising that concerning the forthcoming ethics hearing he issued a lawyer crafted three page apology to Tom Cheek. Mr. Cheek (whom I don’t know, never met or spoke to) offered to drop his ethics complaint if Lee apologized for the way he handled and explained his relationship with attorney Dan McRae. McRae, readers might recall, prepared the draft MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Braves’ attorney that put the deal in motion for the Braves to move to Cobb County.
The three page apology was actually what is commonly referred to as a non-apology apology. It didn’t really apologize for anything and was more of a compilation of explanations and exculpations. I recall some years ago that one of the MDJ’s longest writing columnists defined an apology as saying, “I am sorry, I was wrong, can you forgive me?” Those three phrases sum it up better by miles than anything Lee tried to present to Cheek. Any wonder why Cheek wouldn’t accept the legalese gobbledygook?
Then after the non-apology apology became public and part of a public relations campaign by Lee and his attorney, Lee now wants one of the ethics board members to recuse herself because she is the former wife of Lee’s new attorney. The new attorney, in the same firm as the previous attorney, was appointed only after the ethics board said that they would review Cheek’s complaint. In other words, Lee created the conflict of interest between the board member and his new attorney. A TV serial could be made from the day Lee was contacted by the Braves until the present, and it would prove that truth can be stranger than fiction.
I want to repeat that I support the Braves move to Cobb County. I have no way of knowing if the economic benefits will follow, and neither does anyone else. But because stadiums in various cities of the United States have not delivered on their promises, the process to get a fair agreement for the Braves and the taxpayers should have been more deliberative and open. It seems that a lot of the people who defend Lee’s handling of Dan McRae and who attack Cheek, may be confusing supporters of the Braves move with wanting to ensure that all legal niceties are observed. Why can’t we have both?
Cheek was willing to challenge Lee and the way the deal was locked up. He should be commended for that. The MDJ published a very courtly letter from him last week explaining why he couldn’t accept Lee’s (non-apology) apology. That led to some pretty vicious, nasty, and personal attacks in the comment section underneath his letter. Of course they were anonymous, because that’s the way these snakes operate. Agree with Cheek or not, but he hasn’t shied from putting his name out there. And no, the guy hardly seems to be a publicity hound.
In the same time frame as Cheek’s LTE, Cobb commissioner-elect Bob Weatherford spoke to the Madison Forum. (I don’t know Weatherford, never met or spoke to him, he’s not in my district.) A member asked a question that according the report in the November 18, 2014 MDJ, was taken as a personal attack. While I probably have a lot of disagreement with Weatherford’s plans for the county, I salute him for the way he handled this “gentleman.” Weatherford, a former marine, told the man that “if he wanted to attack me personally, you and I are going to have a man-to-boy talk---and you’re the boy.” Semper Fi, Mr. Weatherford! I am so glad to see someone, politician or the likes of Mr. Cheek, take on those who won’t enter the arena, who only heckle and attack from the stands, almost always anonymously.
The ethics hearing for Lee is really a side show for a real investigation into whether or not there is more to how the Braves move to Cobb County unfolded. We should all stay tuned for what could be another chapter. In the meanwhile, I want to say thank you to Mr. Cheek and Commissioner-elect Weatherford. Despite your vocal critics, you have a lot of supporters.
A longtime promise of the Republicans has been to cut spending and balance the budget. It hasn’t happened, though, and up until the recent George Bush presidency, Ronald Reagan ran up the largest deficits ever. A standard defense to his budgets is that the Democrats passed the spending bills, but they leave out Reagan’s veto power. As for Bush, his party had majorities in both Houses for six years, and he didn’t veto a single spending bill during that time. Obama’s first budget, the first trillion dollar deficit, was in fact the one Bush assembled. Even though Obama’s budget deficits represent the lowest percentage compared to the GDP (much lower than Reagan’s and Bush’s), the new majority in Congress is determined to whack away at it. That is a fair political debate, one I have no argument with.
The debate will be in what gets cut, and that’s where the nastiness and in-fighting will occur, both intra and inter-party. There is already talk of cutting food stamps and other government aid programs to the poor. They are the low hanging fruit with no political clout. The real money is in government contracts, not only in the defense sector---which is the largest---but also with every other government agency. I’m sure there is waste with a lot of them, but getting to the fruit at the top of the tree is a lot harder. Campaign contributions and PACS coupled with self-preservation interests by politicians stand guard to protect the special interests.
How in the name of conservative philosophy does a Republican defend keeping obsolete military bases open? Same for building weapons systems that the Pentagon says are no longer useful? There are very good reasons to keep Dobbins RAFB open, but there are also compelling reasons to consolidate its functions at other bases. Should the politicians decide for political reasons to protect their local bases, or should it matter if there are serious savings to be had by making tough choices? I’ve asked this question before: If it’s a jobs program for keeping no longer needed bases open, then be honest and call it that. Conservatives say that the generals should fight our wars, so shouldn’t they also be the deciders of where the waste is?
In the interest of joining my fellow Republicans in cutting spending, I would propose the harshest of decisions---a ten or twenty percent across the board cut to all government contracts. No exceptions. I readily admit that it would cause a variety of hardships, many unforeseen. For one, it would convincingly open the eyes of those who think that the government doesn’t create jobs. There are millions of people that make a living selling products and services to the government, and that money goes right back into the economy. Let Lockheed lay off a few more thousand employees, and watch the effect on Cobb County businesses that depend on that spending. And that money drifts right down to the amount of local and state taxes that get collected, affects property values, and much more.
The new Republican majority can cut taxes all day long, but it has not proven to have much effect on the economy. Consumer demand for goods and services is what we need. But over the past 15 years wages have fallen in value for the middle and lower classes. The small tax cuts that benefit them usually amount to no more than being able to buy one pizza a week. I don’t dispute the importance of managing our debt, but if the government were to spend serious money on building and repairing infrastructure, not only would the country benefit, the number of good jobs that would be created would stimulate the private sector. That stimulus would create taxpayers, and the government could then cut back on spending as the private sector picked up the slack. I’ll take that theory over trickle down, and the evidence for it is World War II.
The change in power in Washington may be a good thing. I won’t argue with success. But I also don’t live on hope, because as Benjamin Franklin said, if you live on hope, you will die of starvation. Results will make a believer out of me and many other skeptics.
I admit that I did not foresee a nationwide Republican sweep. A large number voted a straight party ticket. It would be pointless to debate whether the country is better or worse off than when Obama took office in 2008. There are arguments on both sides of that question, but obviously more think that we are worse off and demanded change. They got it.
Senate-elect David Perdue said this morning on the Herman Cain show that he would focus on tax reform and eliminating regulations that inhibit job growth. Congressman Tom Price was quoted as saying that he also supports tax and healthcare reform. It’s fair to ask of each what their specific plans are for accomplishing these goals. We know that Price has submitted a healthcare reform bill already, but he should explain why his fellow Republicans won’t even give it a committee hearing.
We should also hear from our new representatives across the land how they expect to balance the budget. We have heard for years now that the government should operate its finances the same way that households and businesses have to, i.e. spend no more than you take in. I don’t agree with that proposition at all; there is a huge difference between micro and macroeconomics, but I am happy to let our new leaders prove me wrong. If they can cut spending, to include more than some of the social welfare programs, to include the myriad of government contracts to private businesses, many of which are boondoggles, and not cause another recession, they could have my vote in 2016.
During the campaign a common complaint against Harry Reid was that he was sitting on 350 bills from the House, many of which claimed to have bi-partisan support. What I found was that many of those bills related to tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses, eliminating Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting abortion, overturning Supreme Court precedents concerning religion, limiting marriage to heterosexuals, enhancing gun rights, and the like. What I couldn’t find were bills directly relating to our quality of life, such as jobs, infrastructure repair, transportation, school loan programs, etc.
From the new Congress we should rightfully expect meaningful immigration reform. Unless and until Obama vetoes any legislation that the Republicans submit, objections fall on deaf ears. The Republicans should go to work and pass legislation in both Houses and allow it to bubble up to the president’s desk. They will have done their job if they do that, and then it’s Obama’s move after that. Two years from now the voters can decide if the Republicans have kept their promises, and they can vote accordingly.
The unemployment numbers are way down from when Obama took office. Admittedly, among the reasons could be that more people have quit looking for work, and others have taken jobs with that pay one-third to one-half of what they were making before the recession. Technology has wiped out a lot of white collar jobs that once paid decently. Can we expect to hear from the Republican representatives how they will restore good, upward mobility jobs? A common lament of Republicans is that the corporate tax needs to be lowered or eliminated to create jobs. If they can convince us that doing so will cause consumer demand, which in turn will lead to new jobs, they will have my support.
The track record until now proves otherwise. Corporations are sitting on $3 trillion because of a lack of spending from the American people. Another thing rarely, if ever discussed, is that investment and dividend income is taxed lower than wages, and that’s because of the double taxation argument. And let’s not overlook the number of deductions that corporations can take that literally cancel out any tax liability.
As one who voted for Republicans for the better part of my life, I can be won over again. No more blaming Obama for things that the two Houses can fix. No more personal attacks on the president about his religion, his citizenship, the despicable pejoratives to describe his wife. Let’s see the Republicans go to work and accomplish a record that America can get behind. If they take their unofficial party chairman’s advice (Rush Limbaugh) and his echo chamber, Sean Hannity, that both offered the day after Election Day, that the Republicans were not sent to Washington to compromise, to cross the aisle, be prepared for two years of failed leadership. Batter up!
The Republicans may take control of both houses of congress in January, and if they do it will be a big start for them to “restore America”, “go back to the Constitution”, and to fulfill other promises like these that there is no way to measure. Perhaps they can move the 350 House bills they claim Harry Reid is holding up in the Senate. Actually, most if not all of these bills are related to repealing ObamaCare or are riders that they know there is no chance that the Democrats would support.
Closer to home, we have four out of five county commissioners that are Republicans. The four hastily voted for a $400 million bond deal to support building the new Braves stadium in Cobb County. Yet I have been unable to figure out how committing tax money in one form or another to subsidize a wealthy, prospering private business squares with the Republican philosophy of letting the free marketplace work. Can anyone cite a developer in Cobb that built a subdivision with government bonds? On the state level, with the Republicans in power, Delta airlines is given a fuel tax exemption, Gulfstream, a manufacturer of private jets, got a sales tax break on all the parts it purchases, and Georgia agribusiness is the beneficiary of a similar tax giveaway. According to Roy Barnes in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, there are some 200 businesses in Georgia that receive special tax breaks.
Yes, I know the arguments for granting these tax breaks, that the companies provide jobs that bring in new revenue. It always sounds better than it is. The shareholders rake in the profits, and the taxes that are waived are made up by the rest of us. There is no free lunch.
Then there is the federal tax code that is a few thousand pages, and the accompanying tax regulations, which is even longer. Very few middle class people are affected by the regulations once you get past some common provisions dealing with IRA’s, some rental income, small amounts of dividends, and the like. The rest are complicated giveaways written in such esoteric language that even a Harvard English professor couldn’t decipher them. Be sure, though, that all of these breaks don’t appear magically. It is the very people who benefit from them that are the hidden hands that write these laws. And their elected representatives are glad to do it in return for the campaign largess that only they can afford to pay.
If the Republicans take control of both Houses in January and the White House two years later, I don’t expect any changes for the better for the middle class. They will cut Medicaid, food stamps, and other low hanging fruit that impact the poor. Will they touch unnecessary defense spending? Highly unlikely. We’ve already seen locally that our representatives are digging in to preserve Dobbins if it makes the next BRAC hit list. And this effort is in spite of any Pentagon studies that might say that it no longer serves the purpose that it once did---like many other bases.
Since Obama got blamed for high unemployment, high gas prices, and a falling stock market---all occurring around the time he took office---where is the credit for the reverses? I don’t blame or credit presidents for gas prices and the stock market, but fair is fair when it comes to the blame game. If Republicans judge their party’s forthcoming results by the same measures, I would be pleasantly surprised.
The two things that could happen fairly quickly to give the Republicans credibility that they bring hope and change of their own would be to come up with a new tax code and a healthcare plan that is demonstrably better than the Affordable Healthcare Act. Considering the Republican House not even giving a hearing to Congressman Tom Price’s bill for healthcare reform, can we conclude that they aren’t serious? Add to that Republican Congressman Dave Camp’s tax reform bill that John Boehner said was dead on arrival, and you have some idea that things don’t look good for those of us squeezed out in the middle---on a local, state and national level.
On Tuesday, October 21, 2014, the Cobb County Board of Ethics heard Tom Cheek lay out his case against Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee. This was only a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the board to go forward and consider whether Lee violated various ethics provisions. The board voted to conduct a full hearing. I, for one, thank Cheek for his tenacity, and the board for carefully weighing the evidence. This is not going to be a popular decision with many, if not most, Cobb citizens.
The most egregious allegation against Lee concerns his steadfast denials of having no attorney-client relationship with Dan McRae, the lawyer Lee maintained was essentially a personal adviser to help him better understand the Braves stadium deal. It would certainly be legal, and I know of no one who would object to that relationship if that’s all there was to it But we learned very recently that in an October 8, 2013 email, Lee confirmed that the “county confirms the attorney-client relationship between it and Seyfarth Shaw LLP as its Project Counsel/Bond Counsel for Project Intrepid.” Project Intrepid was the code name for the stadium deal. Yet Lee continued to deny that there was any such relationship between the county and McRae until the email was revealed.
What is remarkable is how the goal posts for dissembling, for fabrication, have been moved back for Mr. Lee. The Braves stadium project is touted as the grand prize that any municipality would like to win. We are told of the jobs that will be created, the development around the stadium that is going to add so much money to our tax coffers, how we in Cobb are the chosen. And all that happy talk has blinded segments of the media and otherwise good, honest, moral, ethical people to overlooking in Lee what they would never do if it was a political enemy or business associate.
Where is the outrage? The same voices that accuse Obama of lying about one thing or another, are noticeably silent when it comes to Mr. Lee. One of my favorite remarks heard from some people is that there isn’t any evidence of wrongdoing to investigate further. I am not suggesting that there is in fact more evidence of misconduct, but I am suggesting that the untruths from Mr. Lee add up to enough information to warrant a lot more probing. To stop now would be like the police finding a body in a house of an otherwise healthy person. Could one argue that that alone is insufficient evidence for the police to conduct an autopsy, to gather all the usual evidence found at any death scene, in order to determine if the death was murder or otherwise?
Lee had no authority to appoint McRae as “Project Counsel”, and the aforementioned email belies Lee’s explanation to the contrary. It defies human rationale that Seyfarth Shaw, a silk stocking national law firm would have permitted McRae to spend weeks providing free counsel to Lee without compensation or the expectation of getting the $4 million bond contract.
The Cobb Board of Ethics should be the starting point, at the least, of a real probe. The board’s powers are too limited, and they are too small to conduct a long term, in depthinvestigation. Subpoena power, as I have previously suggested, is vital to getting to the bottom of Lee’s relationship with McRae, what McRae agreed to provide Lee in the way of advice---or services---and what McRae understood he and his law firm would take out of it. McRae would be a key witness, voluntarily or under compulsion, and the appropriate government agency could grant immunity to him if he declined to testify.
I think the vote on the SPLOST will be an indication of whether Lee continues to have the support of the citizens of Cobb County. I am not alone in tying him to the SPLOST and voting against it for that reason. Let’s play baseball in Cobb in 2017, but let’s do it right. This deal didn’t go down like Lee said it did, it was very quickly approved by the commission with almost no time for serious input from Cobb residents, and all of us deserve to know the truth, to learn from it and ensure that it never happens this way again.
I have voted for every SPLOST since moving to Cobb County in 1985. My three children were born here, attended our local public schools, got a great education, and part of that is due to the facilities that SPLOST money paid for. I have also seen road improvements, sidewalks, parks, and other amenities that were built with the extra penny, and to my way of thinking, we have all benefited from this self-imposed tax. Others may disagree, and that is a fair political debate that we should have.
On November 4th, the voters will decide whether to extend another six years to the SPLOST. In principle, I support it. Certainly I think that the Cobb Police are long overdue to have a new and modern police headquarters. We have the best police force in Georgia, and to maintain the quality of the department, it should also have the best facilities and equipment to do the job. And I am happy to pay for it.
For the first time I will not be voting for a SPLOST. There have been town hall meetings where both sides have laid out their case for and against it. I am not sure which side is the more meritorious, but my inclination would be to support it. A good part of the factors going into my deliberations is that I trust my elected officials unless I have reason not to. In this instance I no longer trust the chair of the Cobb County Commission, Tim Lee. I have never particularly liked his style of governing, but I am sincere in saying that I would not let that alone interfere with my making important decisions. That said, Lee broke faith with the electorate in the new stadium deal. As I wrote in last week’s Agitator, I can live with broken promises and deal with it at the ballot box. Things can change that caused an official to change his position, and that is up to each voter to decide whether it is a deal-breaker for earning that voter’s support.
Lee was caught telling one story about his relationship with attorney Dan McRae, only to have an email completely and factually contradict him. Adding to that was how the email was intentionally written outside the Cobb County government’s email system to avoid having to comply with any Open Records Act requests that might come along. And this particular email goes to the core of how the stadium deal was negotiated.
Cobb County is going to raise the hotel/motel/car rental tax and a few others to support the bond deal that will help pay for the stadium. The public never got a meaningful chance to voice its opposition to it. There are lots of questions about whether all the promises the Braves made can or will be kept, and whether the property owners will ultimately be on the hook if all the happy talk of revenue doesn’t live up to the expectations. By then Lee and many of his cheerleaders will be long gone.
Republicans have touted “trickledown” economics since the early 1980s. Most, including George H.W. Bush believed it to be “voodoo” economics. But I’m always up for a good argument. I read that if the SPLOST fails next month, Cobb’s sales tax will drop to five percent, the lowest in Georgia. Republicans should look hard at that and consider how many more people will shop in Cobb County, but also the number of shoppers from neighboring counties drawn to Cobb’s stores. According to trickledown theory, we should be flooded with additional revenue, money that could be spent paying our police, firefighters and teachers what they are really worth, money that would go into general revenue instead of facing the limitations on the use of SPLOST funds.
I do not trust anything that Lee has said or continues to say about why we need this latest SPLOST. Those who know the devil in the details have expressed concerns, and I have to give them credence at this point. Lee has refused to comment about his previous statements and the email that belies them. No explanation. No apology. No nothing except to hide behind lawyerly wisdom of not saying anything. What is he running from? Perhaps it’s all a big mistake? Maybe the paper trail is all wrong? If Lee had served in the military, he would have learned the importance of trust with his fellow men and women in arms. He would know that once that trust is broken, it is gone forever and he can no longer be an effective leader.
Lee has his many supporters because they like the idea of the Braves moving to Cobb County. I like the idea too. I also like the law and rules to be followed, to include those situations where the deal is so good that you “have to do what is necessary”, even if laws and rules are broken, to make things happen. I wonder if the same supporters would be there for Lee if he did the same thing to get through his Bus Rapid Transit System.
Politicians make promises, most of which I believe they honestly intend to keep. Events and circumstances can change, though, and promises are broken. A common broken promise is to increase spending for a given purpose with the concomitant commitment that there won’t be a tax hike. In this instance it might get a little trickier for a voter to figure out if it’s a legitimate promise. That falls on each of us to sort through conflicting facts and conflicting analyses and opinions. Out of this comes political parties that best line up with our individual views.
Debating issues is energizing and hopefully distills the best ideas and takes us closer to truth. What is illegitimate is for an elected official to knowingly state something as fact when a record, a paper trail, clearly contradicts it. There have been arguments on both sides of building a stadium for the Atlanta Braves in Cobb County, whether public funding should be involved, time set aside for meaningful hearings, etc. The citizens and their county commissioners who represent them deserved to have all the facts in front of them. After that, the board could decide, and the voters could also decide whether to reward or punish their representatives at the polls based on the outcome. It may not be a perfect political process, but it is the best one out there until someone comes up with something better.
For months Commission Chairman Tim Lee has emphatically stated that he did not hire Seyfarth Shaw attorney, Dan McRae, to negotiate a deal between the county and Atlanta Braves. When pressed he even said that there was no attorney/client relationship between him and McRae, and that McRae was merely retained pro bono as an adviser. Now we know from the AJC that Lee sent an email to McRae dated October 8, 2013, an email that went through the Cobb Chamber of Commerce instead of Lee’s county email address, in order to avoid having the message surface under the Open Records Act. In the email Lee confirms “the attorney-client relationship between it and Seyfarth Shaw LLP as its Project Counsel/Bond Counsel for Project Intrepid.” Project Intrepid was the code name Lee and the Chamber gave to the Braves deal.
Until now Lee maintained that there were no promises made to McRae or his firm for the $4 million fee that would be paid to put the $400 million bond deal together. Yet Seyfarth Shaw wrote itself into the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) as the anointed firm. Cobb County Attorney Deborah Dance, who was out of the loop until a draft of the MOU came to her attention, removed Seyfarth Shaw because it had not gone through the appropriate bidding process. And that’s when things began to get nasty.
McRae had put in months of work for free swapping any number of drafts between him and the Braves. Just a modicum of understanding of human nature would tell you that a very experienced lawyer with a national silk stocking firm likely had a reasonable expectation that they would get the bond contract. Why else would they do all the donkey work only to see the ultimate prize go to another firm? What did Tim Lee say or imply that led McRae to believe that his firm would get the contract? McRae tried to clarify the situation with Lee but was met with silence. Dance told an AJC reporter that in a conversation with McRae, McRae wanted to know why he wasn’t selected.
In my opinion, the person who should have been picked as Citizen of the Year in 2013 is Deborah Dance. She didn’t flinch when she saw Seyfarth Shaw listed as the bond attorney in the MOU, and quickly removed them. Dance says that Lee didn’t pressure her to choose Seyfarth Shaw, but what really was said and occurred is probably known only to them. Standing up to her ultimate boss, the commission chairman, speaks highly of Dance. Lee’s house of cards began to topple once she held fast.
Those who are angry at the media revelations concerning what actually occurred vice what Lee told us, are wrong. Their anger is misplaced. Many of us support in concept the Braves relocating to Cobb County. We just wanted the process to be fair and follow all the rules. I wonder if these angry people and Lee defenders would feel the same way if instead of a stadium being built we were told that a private company was going to construct a huge prison. Imagine the same promises of jobs, vendor services, and other benefits to the county, and the same circumvention of the rules. Could anyone seriously claim that they would be just as supportive of a prison as the stadium even if the economic benefits were equal?
It’s time for a real investigation into the relationship between Lee, the Chamber of Commerce, and Dan McRae. Let the subpoenas fly. Let’s see all the documents. Let’s see what else surfaces that was concealed from the taxpayers. Anything short of such investigation is a disservice to Cobb County citizens.
Tim Lee misled the citizens of Cobb County, and my choice of words is intended to be charitable. He is a fiduciary of the taxpayers. I don’t expect a politician to resign, be recalled, or impeached when he breaks a campaign promise. That’s politics for better or for worse. The remedy is the ballot box. But in this instance, how can we ever trust Tim Lee again? He broke that trust by conscious choice. He should resign.