Tom Cheek of west Cobb, who works in software sales, filed the complaint against Lee on Tuesday. He said Lee improperly hired an attorney, ignored Open Records requests and tried to hide his dealings to secure the Atlanta Braves’ move to the county by using a private email account to do county business.
Lee said Cheek’s allegations “are arrived at incorrectly, so I totally expect the ethics board to review these and find that there’s no ground to continue to move forward on it.”
Two other ethics complaints against Lee related to the Braves deal have previously been dismissed.
While connected to the Braves and their move to the county in 2017, Cheek says in the document his grievance isn’t a “Braves-related complaint. It is an ethics-related complaint.”
Cheek maintains Lee did not have the authority to hire outside attorney Dan McRae to negotiate the deal and should have instead gone through county attorney Deborah Dance to appoint representation.
“She could have done a national search for the best bond attorney (with) major league stadium experience,” Cheek said. “So just by chance (Lee) happened to know the most qualified attorney for this job in the United States? That’s a pretty tall order.”
Lee said Cheek misunderstands the process.
“I consulted with someone — sought some help in the process up to a certain point — then I brought it to the commission, so I think that’s a misunderstanding on his part,” Lee said.
While McRae’s work was done for free, an early draft of the Memorandum of Understanding to build the stadium listed him as the bond and project attorney, Dance confirmed to the MDJ. Cheek said that would have meant McRae would have pocketed $4 million in commission fees. McRae’s name did not appear on the final draft because Dance struck it.
Cheek’s complaint also claims Lee ignored open records requests for drafts of the MOU.
“If you know someone is watching you, you’re going to do one of two things. You’re going to do things right, or you’re going to hide what you’re doing,” Cheek said.
By using a non-work email account, Cheek said it appears Lee was trying to hide something because, Cheek thinks, the personal email would be bypassed by an Open Records request.
Lee said the Open Records laws are very clear that when he is asked to do a search, every email available to him is fair game to be submitted. He said he tries to keep his work and personal email accounts separate, but some people still email him at the “incorrect” address. Lee added he complies with any Open Records search and anything is subject to it.
Cheek does not want Lee to resign or be removed from office.
“I want Chairman Lee, and all future chairmen and district commissioners to remember that following the rules is important, and if you don’t follow the rules, then you will be subject to censure or reprimand,” he writes in his complaint. “I want all potential development partners to know that we operate ethically in Cobb County.”
Lee has 30 days to formally respond to the complaint, and the ethics board will decide whether to take up the case after that, according to its attorney, Lynn Rainey.