Coalition seeks to oust Cobb commissioners over Braves vote
by Bill Barrow, Associated Press Writer
December 09, 2013 12:11 AM | 5578 views | 24 24 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — A deal for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to draw the Atlanta Braves north of their downtown home is pitting conservative tea party activists against the elected and civic leaders in staunchly Republican Cobb County, with opponents saying the use of public money to help a private business is not what American capitalism should be about.

The argument for the deal is simple, says Commission Chairman Tim Lee and other supporters. Almost $400 million in county bonds and immediate infrastructure improvements, with debt payments approaching $600 million over 30 years — will generate enough economic activity and, thus, tax revenue to justify the spending.

“This is a home run for Cobb County,” Lee said at a public hearing on the eve of the commission’s 4-1 vote, “and I’m confident the people of Cobb will come to understand that.”

Nonsense, says Atlanta Tea Party Leader Debbie Dooley, whose group has a Cobb chapter.

It’s all “appalling hypocrisy” and “arrogance,” Dooley explained, particularly from the four Republican commissioners who pitch their conservative credentials and champion the idea of a free market. Dooley and other tea partyers typically associate active, expensive government with Democrats, but it was the commission’s lone Democrat who cast the only dissenting vote.

Citizens’ groups have blasted both the financing arrangement and the secretive manner that it came about, with commissioners approving a deal in late November, just weeks after Lee and Braves executives shocked Major League Baseball and metropolitan Atlanta by announcing a plan they’d hammered out in private.

The tea party groups have built an alliance that even includes activists like Cobb resident Rich Pellegrino, who frequently leads liberal and progressive causes in the GOP-leaning county. “The labels here don’t really matter,” Pellegrino said. “Whether it’s Republicans, Democrats, whatever, what’s going on here is that the chamber of commerce types run the county, and the politicians are doing their bidding.”

The coalition members say they’re exploring a range of legal options, from lawsuits to petitions to oust Lee and his colleagues from the commission.

Lee pushed his deal by making the same broad economic arguments often heard from Democrats.

President Barack Obama made it for his stimulus package in 2009 and President Franklin Roosevelt did the same for New Deal spending programs: Public spending will spur private economic activity. Lee adds a familiar pitch about the value of “public-private partnerships,” arguing that the Braves will carry most of the billion-dollar project cost.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said, “There’s no one who’s more Republican and fiscally conservative than me.” But, she insisted, “This is a no-brainer.”

She justified the quick action by saying the city of Atlanta, where the Braves have played for 47 years since moving from Milwaukee, would counter Cobb’s incentives if given the opportunity.

Dooley, meanwhile, conceded the potential benefits of public spending on infrastructure and education that helps fuel private enterprise. But the Braves deal, she said, is elected politicians steering money to favored businesses. “The government is not supposed to pick winners and losers,” she said. “This is anything but free-market.”

Many Cobb business leaders back the plan, and they were vocal at the series of hastily arranged town hall meetings around the county before the commission approved the deal Nov. 26.

Supporters wore T-shirts paid for by Cobb business owners. They read: “Come to Cobb: Home of the Braves.” The spirited residents waved foam tomahawks that have become a staple at Turner Field, the downtown stadium the Braves plan to abandon at the end of the 2016 season.

Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed, meanwhile, has reacted to the shock of losing the Braves with not-so-veiled barbs at his Republicans neighbors. “We can’t spend money that liberally in the city of Atlanta,” he said. “We are fiscal conservatives here.”

Reed ignores the fact he recently committed at least $200 million in public bonds for a new retractable-roof stadium for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. But he nonetheless highlights the curious politics at play in the more conservative suburbs.

The Braves deal calls for a $672 million, publicly owned stadium that would open in 2017 about 10 miles northwest of downtown. Separately, the team would finance a commercial development around the ballpark.

By Lee’s explanation, taxpayer’s share is $300 million, though the details are debatable.

Cobb County would spend $24 million on initial infrastructure improvements and sell $276 million in bonds for construction. The county’s annual debt payments would be $17.9 million over 30 years, totaling $537 million. The payment would come from $8.67 million in existing property taxes that now pay off debt for park projects. The rest would come from lodging taxes, a rental car tax and levies on businesses in a special commercial district around the stadium site.

The Braves’ initial contribution would be $280 million. The remaining $92 million would come from debt that the county says belongs to the team, bringing the Braves’ share to $372 million, or 55 percent of the total. But that $92 million would also come from public bonds beyond the county’s $276 million, and it would require additional debt payments of $6.1 million. That would be covered partly by the team’s $3 million annual stadium rent payment to the county and $1.5 million in money from a corporate sponsor that would pay the team for naming rights for the publicly owned stadium.

Construction estimates do not included maintenance and capital improvements at the stadium. The county has agreed to split those costs over the 30-year agreement, though neither party has released detailed numbers for those expenses.

Dooley says all the variables make clear that the public cost is well beyond the $300 million figure that Lee emphasizes.

The coalition of opponents initially asked commissioners to postpone the Nov. 26 vote for a memorandum of understanding between the county and the team. Pellegrino says the next step is submitting a detailed list of questions the MOU outline hasn’t yet answered.

There’s also the possibility of legal challenges for various components of the financing deal, including the plan to redirect existing property tax revenues to pay off stadium debt. Then, Dooley says, there’s the task of going after the commissioners’ jobs, first through recall petitions and, if that fails, when they’re up for re-election.

“This is not over,” Dooley said, “not by a long shot.”

Comments
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Rich Pellegrino
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December 15, 2013
The armchair critics here can say what they like however this coming together of the right, left, middle, black, white, conserv, lib, dem, repub, etc., to ask for what any reasonable person would do--more than two weeks to properly vet a potential billion dollar boondoggle (unless you are a local business owner or elected official on the Braves payroll already), bodes well for the future of our community, is the greatest win for Cobb, GA, and really the nation...because if we can remain and work together this will provide an example for our elected and appointed officials, and for all people that they, the people, can arise and bring about change , regardless of labels. The change we have already helped bring about through this Braves fiasco is that the days of back room dealings by the few with big money interests, away from the sunlight of citizen involvement and govt transparency, are over, at least here in Cobb. (And,thanks for the credit, but it belongs to the brave citizens and citizen-leaders, like Debbie Dooley and other Tea Party leaders, civil rights leaders, and others, who came together to provide this leadership and example. Many more will be joining them and us, and you are invited to leave your armchairs and meet the people...they really aren't as scary as you believe...in fact, you may find, as I have, that they have more in common with you than you think!)
richiedoodle
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December 10, 2013
Get this clown crew out of the news. How embarrassing for us! Dooley doesn't live here and Pellegrino is such a publicity hound he is becoming Cobb County's version of Jesse and Al!! Hey, Rich, if you want to do something productive, do something about the child molesting illegals you seem to support and adore. You know, the ones who are only here to work!!

"A Marietta man has been convicted of raping one child and molesting another and was sentenced to serve 45 years in prison.

After a week long trial, Cobb County jurors Monday convicted Eduardo Castillanos, 28, of Marietta, of three charges involving two young family members. Castillanos committed the rape of one girl between 2007 and 2008, when she was not yet 10 years old. Castillanos is a native of Honduras and is under an immigration hold by federal authorities with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Man gets 45 years in child rape molestation case

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Man gets 45 years in child rape molestation case

The Nerve Of Nutsos
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December 10, 2013
Ask Debbie how much her taxes will increase in Cobb County. She doesn't even live in Cobb County. ?Ask Debbie who she will be voting for in the next Cobb elections? No one. She doesn't live in Cobb. Debbie, please leave Cobb alone and go pick on another county, maybe the one you reside in. Well, maybe they ran you out already?
anonymous
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December 10, 2013
Debbie Dooley has too much doodle time on her hands. Perhaps more time is needed at Lenox. Debbie Doddle doesn't even live in Cobb County, people. The stadium doesn't affect Doodle one iota.
Concerned Citizen
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December 09, 2013
My hat’s off to the Tea Party. I’m glad to know it’s taking a stand. I now pay City taxes, State taxes, Federal taxes, ObamaCare taxes, Sales taxes, many other taxes, and soon to pay BRAVES taxes!!! Enough is enough. I work for my money and would like to enjoy some of it myself. Private business should pay its own way. If this is such a good investment, the Braves should have people beating a path to their door. Cobb County taxpayers should demand answers to questions like 1) The unknown potential cost overruns and who is responsible; 2) The consequences of raising the Chattahoochee flood-plain, property damage and environmental issues; 3) The pipeline and gas lines relocation; 4) Timeline for building more interstate lanes and highways to address the unplanned high volume traffic overload which could potentially cripple the County; 5) And last but not least, it’s unfair to strap the people of Cobb with a $300 million private enterprise debt, while all of the surrounding Metro-area counties will be using the facility and not sharing in the cost.
I'm a TeaPartier
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December 09, 2013
I would consider myself a Tea Partier and I completely disagree with those who claim that this move is a bad thing. Guys, you can't be opposed to ALL government spending. I would like for the federal government to be limited tremendously, but local government is what you should be in favor of.

Local government is led by your neighbors and actually gives things back to your community. It is the federal government that is so far away and detached. If you are against ALL government spending you are not a Tea Partier, you are an anarchist.

Get Real and Go Braves! Welcome to Cobb County. Let's have a great partnership that serves us all well.
Gwinnett Resident
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December 21, 2013
Public borrowing to fund projects that benefit the general population such as infrastructure (roads, rapid transit and sewers) have been broadly accepted by taxpaying citizens, but funding a baseball stadium using the argument that it will stimulate economic activity (benefits) that outweigh the cost is a stretch and the Gwinnett Braves is a perfect example of an ongoing economic failure.
w00t
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December 09, 2013
What is it with the tea party and always wanting to overthrow a democratically elected official whether it's a commissioner or the President himself? That's not how this works.

You don't get to throw a fit because you didn't get your way and threaten a lawsuit or a recall. You wait your turn till the next election cycle, run your candidate, run on your ideas, and may the best candidate win.

Besides, why does Dooley think she represents the wishes of Cobb County residents?
Johbn Galt
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December 09, 2013
Bruton Smith bought the Bristol Motor Speedway and built it into the venue it is today without the taxpayers of Sullivan County, TN being on the hook. Why did the commissioners vote to out their citizens on the hook? They should have just told the Braves organization to talk to Mr. Smith and find out how it's done.
JR in Mableton
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December 09, 2013
Why doesn't Debbie Dooley stay in her own county? Who will she be voting for in the next election for Cobb County commission? She is a joke. The Tea Party is a joke.
Just Wait
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December 09, 2013
It would be just like the Tea Party, ranting about needless spending of tax money, to file a suit against Cobb County over the Braves deal. That would result in the county spending even more money to defend themselves. You TP'ers really need to learn that your time is coming to an end. You've trashed our Federal government and made ineffective and now you want to "bring it home." Please, just go away.
melanieb.
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December 09, 2013
I am so for this it is not even funny. It will bring in so much revenue to Cobb County and make that area look so much better. That area where they are building the new stadium has gone by the way side for years. it is time to clean it up make it profitable once again & the Braves moving to Cobb is a welcome site. It will put people to work and work for YEARS to come not just seasonal work like it is now down there. So I say WELCOME BRAVES welcome!
dustoff
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December 09, 2013
Rich and Dooley need to crawl back under their rock.

Atlanta made it real clear they wanted the Falcons with their covered dome deal but would not spend the money to upgrade the Braves stadium.

The Braves decided to move and Cobb offered them a deal.

That people is good business sense not politics.

rctman
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December 09, 2013
bring the petition my way, ill sign it and i have dozens more who will vote to remove/recall these folks.

ModernPatriot
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December 09, 2013
I'm sorry, but this time the Tea Party activists are being short sighted. Cobb County is estimated to make $1 billion dollars in the first few years, after spending $400 million. Lets say the estimates are low, like they usually are, and the county pays out $600 million. In the long run, the county actually makes more money than it spent. That's smart business, not wasteful spending.
Your Name
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December 09, 2013
You're the perfect sycophant. This isn't a zero sum game. There are plenty of studies out there.
cjo30080
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December 09, 2013
1 billion dollars, huh? If you believe this made-up number, then I have swamp land that you might be interested in.

After investing in a professional sports venue, not one city or county has generated enough economic growth to restore the money that it spent, much less make a profit. NOT ONE!

Those who suggest otherwise are perpetuating a scam that, sadly, elected officials and the gullible among us fall for over and over again.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell was right. This vote was a no-brainer. She should have voted no.
Common Sense
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December 09, 2013
The reports everyone is quoting about the majority of cities/counties not making money off new stadiums are true. BUT, and there is a big BUT, the majority of the stadiums in those studies replaced stadiums in the SAME city or county. Why? Because you took revenue that you have been receiving the entire time, and added debt to it or in the cases of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, split the revenue and doubled the debt(each football and baseball team got an individual stadium).

This is why this deal will be great. Cobb County has concrete numbers with what revenue this franchise has been doing in Atlanta. You take that and compare it to the debt, and it is a nice PROFIT for Cobb County.
ModernPatriot
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December 09, 2013
Cobb will easily have an easier time making that money back than most counties. Lets be brutally honest, most patrons of professional sports games are suburban white guys and their families. They don't want to be hassled by inner city homeless and "hustlers." As long as Cobb PD keeps the homeless in check and keep the atmosphere safe, then more people will go to the games. More people going to the games means more revenue to the surrounding area. And unlike the area around Turner Field, there is stuff to do in Cobb before and after the games.

Now I'm not looking forward to the traffic, seeing as I live and work near there, but if it improves general living conditions in the county I'm all in. Now if the Tea Party wants something to do, since this is a done deal and they can't fight it, concentrate on how the additional income will be spent.
COBB CSI
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December 09, 2013
Think Timmy even felt guilty while having a party at the Strand you’d think he would at least waste some of your tax money on a party at the fairgrounds since you’re stuck with the bill. Smyrna is contiguous to this land watch for a land grab and Max Bacon will bring home the bacon to Smyrna; the Smyrna Braves has a nice ring doesn’t it. Need to recall all but Lisa Cupid thanks Lisa for thinking of us low life taxpayers and thanks for standing tall.
Smynings Resident
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December 09, 2013
Why doesn't Debbie Dooley clean up the mess in her own county before she stirs the pudding in our county?
T-Idiots
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December 09, 2013
Once Ms. Dooley moves to Cobb she will have a chance to vote. Where was she when her home county was shelling out cash for a AAA farm team?
Your Name
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December 09, 2013
"Construction estimates do not included maintenance and capital improvements at the stadium. The county has agreed...

"do not included"? Really? Included?

Enjoy Life
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December 09, 2013
Fat chance we will be derailed by those clowns. Cobb County wants the Braves even as the Tea Party screams. Hey TP, you have had your 15 minutes and we are more than tired of you. Go back to your caves and let the rest of us enjoy life.
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