In a scathing resignation letter to County Manager David Hankerson on Monday, Jack Forsythe, the county’s public safety director, said his department lacks the resources needed to keep Cobb residents safe now, let alone when the new stadium and accompanying $400 million mixed-use development opens in 2017 down the road from the Cumberland Mall.
Lee says Forsythe is wrong.
“First of all, I want to make it clear that we are very safe, and the public should have a high level of confidence that we live in a secure community,” Lee said. “That has not been compromised at all.”
The county’s public safety department has a budget of $143.5 million, including 655 sworn firefighters and 609 sworn police officers.
Schuerholz said the Braves have their own in-house security department in addition to the 150 or so security staff hired on game days.
“There is a cadre of full-time employees that run that operation for us,” he said. “Then that’s expanded each time we have a game or any kind of activity at the stadium.”
The Braves use a mix of off-duty and on-duty Atlanta police officers on game days, he said.
“It’s part of running a major facility like this when hundreds of thousands of people are going to walk through your gate,” Schuerholz said. “You have to provide security. It’s expected and understood that it’s our responsibility in conjunction with one of the local law enforcement agencies whether it’s local police or state police or whatever it may be, so we understand that and we do it, and we do it well, and we’ve done it for a long time.”
Sharing the cost of security
When the Braves move to Cobb in 2017, Schuerholz said the cost of security operations will be shared with the county.
“It would be split,” he said. “We take on the primary burden of that. They may have some security folks that they have on duty as well. Ordinarily, it’s the team that runs the facility and the security.”
Lee, who sat with Schuerholz during the Vinings Business Association’s luncheon Tuesday, said security for the stadium would be a responsibility led by the Braves.
“We will obviously work in concert with them to have our full force available to them as we do with others, so it all is going to be coordinated as is every public safety public response issue that we currently have in the county and the region,” Lee said.
As in any development project that comes before commissioners, there will be a plan drawn up detailing what resources are needed. Those resources will not require a tax increase, Lee pledged.
“No, absolutely not,” Lee said. “The Braves stadium itself, the security for that property will be led by them and supported by us, and any incremental needs that we might have will be identified well in advance with enough time to train the appropriate people and get the appropriate equipment and make sure they are geared up, so as the development opens, we will have exactly in place what we need to have in place just like we’ve done with every development for the last 10 years.”
Lee dismissed Forsythe’s accusation that Hankerson blocked him from carrying out the kind of reforms needed to keep the county safe.
“For 20 years, Hankerson has led our county, he’s been the county manager over the public safety director for as many years as we’ve had it, going back to (Robert) Hightower being the first one,” Lee said. “We’ve had a strong reputation for the county manager working with public safety directors and we continue to do so. This is just a situation where I guess they just didn’t see eye to eye on some issues, but I know for a fact that Hankerson would not compromise the safety of the community because of any one individual.”
Lee said interim public safety director Sam Heaton has been charged with reviewing Forsythe’s concerns and bringing the Board of Commissioners any recommendations he believes are needed.