I read with interest the column by the Chairman of the Cobb Commission (Tim Lee) and the Sr. VP for Economic Development at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce (Brooks Mathis), entitled “Key to the Braves Deal,” in your paper on Tuesday. The column stated, among other surprising things, that the “team worked to ensure that the public investment is capped at a number that is more than $170 million less than where we started the negotiations.”
The reason that interested me in particular is that I tried for months to dig up the records on the negotiations, which should have been available under the Georgia Open Records Act. The only record the County had was a one-page spreadsheet, entitled “Project Intrepid — Confidential Draft,” which was buried in reams of irrelevant information and apparently kept by accident.
The County Attorney, upon my urging and to her credit, obtained records of the negotiations starting Oct. 14, 2013, from the “experienced advisor” to the Chairman referenced in the column (Dan McRae). But, Mr. McRae did not produce a copy of the spreadsheet when asked for documents reflecting the negotiations.
What does the one-page spreadsheet show? That the County made an offer to the Braves on Aug. 16, 2013, that the Braves countered on Sept. 5, that the County responded to on Sept. 26, and that the Braves countered once again on Oct. 4. Four offers and counter-offers relating to a $600 million dollar deal and only a one-page spreadsheet survives.
According to the spreadsheet, the original, proposed “Annual County Revenues” (otherwise known as “taxes” to those who pay them) in the County proposal of Aug. 16, totaled $16,680,175. According to the current County website for a “quick facts” overview on the Braves deal, the ultimate County “contribution” (taxes again) is $17,900,000 per year. By my math, that is more than $1,000,000 more per year than the first proposal.
It would be ironic if the Chairman, or his co-author Mr. Mathis at the Chamber, can produce any documents on negotiations showing a $170 million dollar “savings” when they didn’t do so in response to formal, Open Records Requests under Georgia law.
Maybe I’m missing something. Are there any records to back up the claim? Isn’t it important for the public to know? Even if “the initial stages of a deal are done confidentially,” as the writers claim, and is “how economic development works today,” shouldn’t all of the records of the public’s business regarding the public’s money (taxes) be carefully kept and made public after the deal becomes public?
How can the taxpayers “move forward,” as the writers wish, if the public records don’t support the claims being made? Of course, it can be said, “What difference does it make now anyway?” Trust, but verify, was a worthwhile motto at one time. And, I think with respect to the public’s money, is a matter of right.
P.S. The public is invited to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone wants a copy of the “Project Intrepid” spreadsheet so they can draw their own conclusions on the negotiations from the only document kept in the County’s files on the topic.
T. Tucker Hobgood, Esq.