Some at Braves’ vote played by rules but were victimized by foes’ plan to 'steal public comment’
by Justin O’Dell
June 03, 2014 12:24 AM | 4545 views | 24 24 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A carefully planned and prepared strategy to steal public comment played out on Tuesday before the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, but not the one you have been reading about. The true plan is revealed only when the entire events are understood.

Since November’s vote to bring the Braves to Cobb County, those opposed to the project have taken advantage of virtually every public forum to voice their discontent. Unsatisfied with the lawful and proper forums to exercise their voice, they have resorted to filing frivolous ethics proceedings, threatening and attacking business leaders supporting the deal and threatening and attacking elected officials in Cobb. This leads us to this past Tuesday.

Those supporting the Braves had decided it was time to be heard and for their support to be shown. That morning, media reports confirmed the county would follow standard protocol in opening the doors at 5 p.m. and allowing the first 12 speakers for public comment. Given the importance of the matter and the strength of our desire to be heard, we came early and waited patiently outside for the doors to open. Well in advance of 5 p.m., our numbers had grown to several dozen.

The vast majority of those assembled were small business owners and employees, individuals whose time and talents are valuable for the organizations where they work or those they own. They were also those who you will find at virtually every charitable event in Cobb County, behind every charitable board and giving campaign and those you will find donating thousands of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to serving the community. Many pay tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes to Cobb County and are greatly affected by changes in tax structure.

Traffic affects not just our daily lives, but the lives of our employees and affects our ability to move products and service providers around Metro Atlanta. The school system affects our ability to recruit talented employees to Cobb and retain those we have.

None of these factors render our voice any more important than any other in Cobb, but they should grant an ounce of credibility to our assertion we just want what we passionately believe to be best for Cobb.

As we gathered early, we discussed and decided that since the doors opened at 5 p.m. and the true “line” to sign up formed at that time, we would give up some of our spaces and speaking slots for any of those in opposition who wanted them and arrived prior to the doors opening. We even mentioned this to two separate members of the media who were waiting with us.

Late to Arrive

When the doors opened at 5 p.m., we filed in politely and formed the line to sign up as instructed. Although our overall number was far greater, only the 12 of us selected got in line to speak. Others quietly found a spot in the audience and waited. To the best of my memory, no one in opposition arrived until after 6 p.m.

Rather than stand in line or discuss the issue of speaking, those who did begin to arrive spent their time taking photos and videos of us while pointing and sneering. At no point did anyone ask us about increasing the number of speakers or taking one of our places. Had they done so, it would have been easy to survey not just those of us in line about giving up a spot, but also to question those 30 or more supporters who had arrived early, but were not going to be able to speak either.

Finally, a few of those in opposition began to stand in the line we had formed. Shortly before the meeting, a public safety officer announced the sign-up procedure and confirmed only the first 12 in line would speak.

Once again, there was no reaction. None of those in opposition raised any objection at this point to the procedure or the obvious fact they would not be reached. None approached us about giving them a spot from which to be heard. Had something been asked politely, there is no telling whether something could have been done.

Shouting for the Cameras

At 7 p.m., the meeting was called to order, and following a prayer, the cameras turned on. It is at that moment the plan referenced above was put in to action. Almost on cue, those in opposition began shouting at Chairman Tim Lee, begging to be heard, accusing him of silencing “the people” (as if to imply we are not people) and refusing to allow the chairman to even speak in response to their remarks.

They shouted out of order and out of turn as much to the TV cameras as to the chairman. They were only asked to leave the meeting when they would not stop shouting and behaving disrespectfully.

Just as they wished, the media took the bait. One by one, the reporters ran out after them, cameras rolling. One member of the opposition can even be seen in a photo being displayed prominently in the media with his arms behind his back as if he has been handcuffed (which he wasn’t).

As we spoke to the board, those outside carried on a press conference just as they had hoped. By that evening and since, they have made themselves the story and garnered far more attention than the five minutes we each received.

Braves’ Supporters ‘Nazis’

Many have criticized Chairman Lee and implied he should have let them speak, but it is not so simple. If the chairman had let them speak, what about the 30 to 50 supporters who arrived prior, but knowing the 12-person limit, chose not to get in line? Is their voice and their passion any less important? Shall a precedent have been set that public comment is first come-first served — unless you are loud and disruptive enough to capture the attention of the media? Should those who gave up their time and their day to wait in line be pushed aside for those who came at the last minute, just because their views are different? How often and for whom should the rules be changed?

After we spoke and the meeting had ended, we left politely. On the way out, we were greeted with sneers and more threats. Some were called “corrupt” and a few of us were called “Nazis” (an accusation particularly offensive in light of the fact many of us had just given up our Memorial Day Saturday to erect almost 1,700 American flags for display around town).

In the days since, more threats to our businesses and threats of frivolous litigation and complaints have been hurled. It has been implied most of us do not work very hard for a living.

No Apologies

In the end, the situation could have gone differently, but it is hardly the fault of Chairman Lee or the Atlanta Braves. Those in opposition were there to create a spectacle for the media and found a way to do so.

I regret that my desire and the desire of my friends to show our support for this project have harmed the image or impugned the integrity of those on the Board of Commissioners and that we have, in any way, brought dishonor to the most revered sports team in all of Georgia and perhaps the entire country. For that, I am deeply sorry.

Although I do not have their expressed permission, I believe my colleagues feel the same way. However, none of us will apologize or cease in our efforts to advocate for those things we believe to be good and beneficial for a county we love and in which we are deeply invested.

Justin O’Dell is a Marietta attorney.
Comments
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Paul Olmeda
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June 06, 2014
All of you are childish. If you feel your voice has not been heard then vote, appeal, petition, and do things the right way. Governments were built with checks and balances, so exhaust every appropriate means to effect change. I don't agree or disagree with Justin's article, but at least he went about speaking his mind appropriately. Acting foolish for the media or creating a spectacle will never really get your voice heard. It just makes honest thoughtful voting people that do their research, think you don't have a legitimate opinion. I for one am more likely to listen to an accomplished professional that writes a public article than someone acting like a child that yells their opinions on the street just to be heard.
EastCobbVoter
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June 06, 2014
This is a great satire piece! A group that wants to see the county triple its' long term debt load, and is essentially using the taxpayers as a new revenue stream for a bunch of billionaires characterized as victims … masterful satire!

This piece deserves national syndication, we all need a laugh now and then!
Rich Pellegrino
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June 05, 2014
I forgot to mention that our "carefully planned and prepared strategy" was to present our talking points to the BOC which all related to the recent polls reflecting that 87% of Cobb residents polled believe that there has not been truth and transparency in this whole process, which the Chairman proved again by his unwise decision to limit public comment and input. Those polls also reflect that a majority do not want to give corporate welfare/public funding to the billionaire Braves owners. This is what we were prepared to share, but I guess Justin and supporters are upset that their plans to prevent us from speaking the facts backfired.
LisaB56
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June 05, 2014
Fortunately the media has jumped on this issue. Greed and grift will be the downfall of all the commissioners and I welcome that day. The citizens of Cobb County have not been represented.
Rich Pellegrino
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June 05, 2014
This is how Justin--one person--saw the event--and he is entitled to his perceptions but they are the limited perceptions of one person who showed up as a self-avowed cheerleader for the Braves, at any cost. He is apparently unaware of what we--the so-called Braves opponents (even though we are pro-transparency and not anti-Braves or BOC, or anyone or anything) did or didn't do, unaware of "the rules", unaware of how the BOC and especially Chairman Lee has treated "the rules" throughout this whole process (seems to me there has been a lot of bragging about how they went around "the rules" and the people at every opportunity), and even unaware of his own colleagues' actions at the meeting (yes, we had some cordial discussions wherein they graciously offered to give up some speaking slots and then reneged at the last minute). The fact is we politely asked the Commissioners and the Chairman to grant some extra slots, before we protested. Most everyone, including the MDJ editors, agree the Chairman erred greatly and jeopardized any trust he had from the community. And this is nothing new but was just brought to the glaring light of the world, thanks to the media present as the MDJ hasn't, until now, covered it-- the Chairman has constantly changed "the rules" regarding number and order of speakers (including that night when he allowed 12 at the beginning of the meeting rather than the 6 which is in the rule book). And he has not followed any other "rules", hence the ethics complaints and coming legal challenges. The other fact is that Justin has not been at the BOC meetings routinely as we have, and only showed up for this Braves sponsored booster rally, but we have been there not only regarding the Braves issue but about accountability and transparency and citizen participation on all issues consistently. So if he would like to truly learn what is going on in Cobb government maybe he can and will get more involved, not just at election time or as a cheerleader for billionaires seeking corporate welfare-- and then he may see where the claims of systemic corruption come from. And there will be more claims and proofs...this is just the beginning...as Georgia is among the most corrupt in the nation and Cobb is apparently leading the pack.
Thank you
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June 03, 2014
Thank you. Finally, the TRUTH of what happened that night. The opponents voices have been heard. They have had so many chances to do that. The speakers who played by the rules should not be criticized.
Rhett Writer
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June 03, 2014
Wow. I bet Kevin Foley couldn't have done a better job of spinning the facts to suit an agenda.
anonymous
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June 04, 2014
You are spot on, Rhett Writer!
Lisa B56
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June 05, 2014
Absolutely correct!
Cobb Taxpayer
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June 03, 2014
Excellent dissertation, Mr. O'Dell. Just as you and the other Chamber rep's managed to occupy the space at the BOC meeting, you've done it again here on the Editorial pages of our local tabloid. Folks might resent your domination if there was anything more important than your interest in the Braves deal. However, we all know nothing in Cobb County is more important than the interests of you and your pals. After all, there's a lot of money involved in this stuff.

Foolish were those sorry folks who showed-up later than your dozen, expecting a chance to speak. They should have known better. After all, the dissenters had spoken numerous times before. They didn't deserve consideration at this meeting.

Other folks who arrived expecting an opportunity to speak-up about other questionable matters such as the approval of the Garrett firm to lobby for the County should have known better, as well. Just who did they think they were, to walk in expecting to hear their voices heard? They obviously underestimated the power of Mr. O'Dell and his friends at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.

We'll see you around, Mr. O'Dell. Perhaps one day at the ballot box.
Concerned Taxpayer
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June 03, 2014
Well, considering you, Mr. O'Dell, and the other 'supporters' of this deal have the Braves' PR machine - as well as a PR campaign funded by the developers of this project among other corporate interests - to do your 'public commenting,' these folks are just trying to be heard as well. Lost in all this hoopla is the fact that Cobb residents are on the hook for nearly half the cost of this stadium when we have teachers being laid off, cops and firefighters furloughed, and roads in need of repair. Tim Lee has treated the citizens of Cobb with open, sneering contempt in this entire process. I think what you saw was the public's reaction to that contempt.
anonymous
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June 03, 2014
Very well spoken.

anonymous
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June 03, 2014
got to love how some lawyers reconstruct events to fit their needs.

no wonder, of all professions, lawyers regularly rank at or near the bottom.

Concerned Taxpayer
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June 03, 2014
Yep, and I'm sure Mr. O'Dell's law firm represents one of the corporate interests that are hot and heavy to have Cobb taxpayers help build them a cash cow.
Not True
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June 03, 2014
I was there and what Justin says is completely accurate. You must have not been there because what you say is FALSE.
Shame on 3 men
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June 03, 2014
Justin, Tim and John our entire social and political system is predicated upon the idea of "fair play" and allowing the voices of the minority to be protected; Neither of these fundamental principals were in play with the silly little stunt your group achieved when you hijacked the process of public comment.

Hopefully you will agree (seemingly doubtful after reading your 'fake outrage') that if an idea has merit, is well constructed, and will benefit our community; it should stand strong under public scrutiny. Thus, why the fear of the opposition voicing their views? Are you seriously claiming that a billion dollar business is incapable of dealing with public criticism or their reputation will be forever tarnished!!!?

- Justin, John Loud and Tim Lee; although the claim of Nazism is repulsive at best; this charge clearly demonstrates how deeply your small group is seen to have orchestrated the silencing of the voices of opposition. Just to remind your group, literally one of the first things which the Nazi party passed, once in power, was the disenfranchisement of the Jewish vote. History clearly teaches, the silencing of citizen's vote (voices) should never be tolerated. Next year when you pause to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice; you might do well to keep that fact at the forefront.

Agree or disagree with the Braves coming to Cobb, Cobb voters have a way of ensuring justice in the end.

Prediction: 1. The silencing of voices will haunt Tim Lee in the next election cycle, 2. should another political race be attempted by yourself, expect the same failure at the ballot box, 3. John Loud, the campaign manager for Bob Weatherford will see voters turn on his candidate for this gross rationalization of unethical behavior.

Seriously??????
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June 03, 2014
You are absolutely ridiculous and completely out of line. No one's voice has been silenced. So many chances have been given between public meetings, opportunities to email your commissioner, etc. where your voice can be heard. The rules were made clear and the opponents to the Braves are just trying to pull a media STUNT. Get the facts straight and learn your history better before you start making absurd and extremely OFFENSIVE accusations against community leaders who do nothing but good for our county. You should be ashamed of yourself.
anonymous
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June 04, 2014
re: Seriously????

I would strongly suggest that you review the facts before you, again, feign 'moral outrage' at being called out.

1. In the courtroom of public opinion, the manipulation of rules and stacking the deck to ensure that voices of opposition are not heard simply does not pass the sniff test for "fair play".

Note: Obviously the 'stacking of the deck" was indeed the goal of yourself, John and Tim. Otherwise, why did your small group arrive an unprecedented hour early to fill the line with speakers for only one side? No, Mr. O'Dell this underhanded and sneaky ploy to deprive the opposition a voice simply does not pass the sniff test of fairness. On a side note: You really got to wonder why this was done in the first place due to the fact that the vote was already in the bag.

2. Per your view of history. In addition to developing a moral compass which points towards integrity, this appears to be another area which could use some additional polishing. Rather than instruct you about history: Go Read. The Nazi Party made no secret about their desire to silence the voices, votes and civic involvement of the Jews. Keep in mind; The column above was the first place where the comparison about Nazi was actually printed. Again, a regrettable comparison, but one that begs to be examined once the claim was printed in the column above. It is intellectually shallow to believe that a cross examination should not be allowed, simply because inflammatory language was used.

3. I would suggest that a re-examination of your broad statement that "community leaders do nothing but good" is the shrill cry of a child who has been caught in a fib.

In summary: My predictions remain. The voters will be heard in a few short weeks (and in November) rejecting anything or anyone which is connected to the small special interest group which currently seems to currently control the Chamber and Tim Lee.

anonymous
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June 03, 2014
Ohh, the little mama dogs of the chamber of commerce just can’t stay quiet.

This is a priceless load of Chamber of Commerce BS. (Perhaps their greatest output of value in some time.)

Mr. O’Dell is the chamber minion of the day who has been sent forth to do the public whining for the chamber of commerce. Clearly, the crony corporatist hacks therein are still not happy enough; now that they have gotten everything they want (i.e. their hand even further into the Cobb taxpayer’s pocket).

No. They have to send out a smirky O’Dell to tell us all about how mean all of those taxpayers have been to the chamber hacks/tools when they (the taxpayers) dared to show up and 1) ask the commission/supporters of the Braves Stadium, questions that no one on the commission or in the chamber of commerce can/will provide answers for, and 2) questioned the propriety of all of the secrecy (until it was time to tell the taxpayers they were gonna be getting a bill soon...for an amount not yet known).

Emboldened are the corporatist little mama dogs of the chamber of commerce.

PS – The White House is about to lose their chief BS peddler when Jay Carney leaves. O’Dell could make a perfect replacement.

Not care?
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June 03, 2014
If you think the chamber doesn't do good in the community, you must not care about protecting Dobbins from BRAC (Base Realignment Closure), public safety awards and appreciation week, helping small businesses through the 200 programs they do for them, Partners in Education that is the largest in the nation that the chamber coordinates with all schools, Cobb Youth Leadership, Honorary Commanders, Leadership Cobb, helping our schools, celebrating teachers through Teachers of the Year appreciation events, workforce development programs, bringing jobs to our county, helping businesses grow, helping our business associations, helping non-profits, helping businesses get started with the resources they need and much more. The Cobb Chamber plays a key role in ALL these areas and so much more. Get your facts straight.
anonymous
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June 04, 2014
Hey Not Care?, they also say Bernie Maddoff liked puppy dogs. Sure doesn't change the fact that he was a lying thief .
MariettaNative
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June 03, 2014
Thank you for offering this alternate account of what happened. The media will always opt for the spectacle rather than the thoughtful presentation of both sides.

My opinion is that a lot of this could have been avoided had the commission and particularly Chairman Lee acted in a more transparent manner throughout this process. Releasing details late Friday on a holiday weekend and then championing it ("How is that not transparent?") is hard to defend.

This is a very important issue, maybe the most, facing the future of the county when factoring development, government funding and traffic. To have all of this happen without proper public debate (beyond last week's meeting) is the opposite of the good government that Cobb has exhibited for generations.

No matter which side of the issue you're on, it's hard to argue that our leaders are behaving with the utmost integrity.
Chief Nock-a-Homa
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June 03, 2014
I don't care if the Braves move here or not. What I do care about is transparent government and Cobb County commissioners carrying out their duty in the light of day.

This entire deal is an abomination to anyone who cares about democracy.

The question is why. Why the rush? Why the secrecy? Why the back room deals? Who is benefitting? What are those benefits?
AmericanMale
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June 03, 2014
As one who's attended many a public meeting, I can fully appreciate your account of the event! If the group had anything truly damning to the Braves' deal, it has been undermined by their retired hippie antics.
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