The crowd gathered on opposing sides of the proposed stadium deal was more like one at the team’s current home of Turner Field in Atlanta. Supporters handed out T-shirts sporting “Cobb Home of the Braves” while those opposed loudly voiced their criticism.
The sides cheered, booed and heckled one another during town hall meetings.
Commissioners will vote at 7 p.m. today at 100 Cherokee St. on a memorandum of understanding between the county and the franchise that promises $300 million in public money from Cobb for the stadium.
Citizens for Governmental Transparency, a coalition of more than a dozen citizens groups, publicly urged the Cobb Board of Commissioners to delay a vote for at least 60 days before a town hall hosted by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell of northeast Cobb.
“If (Atlanta Mayor) Kasim Reed can do it, why can’t the commissioners of Cobb County do it?” asked Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party, one of the diverse groups in the coalition. “It’s because they have something to hide.”
But Birrell says she supports the proposed move and a delayed vote could jeopardize the deal for Cobb by letting other cities or counties try to wine and dine the team executives. There’s a strict timeline that has to be adhered to, Cobb Chairman Tim Lee said, in order for the team to have a new stadium ready for opening day in 2017.
“If it doesn’t occur (tonight), we put that whole timeline in jeopardy,” Lee said.
East Cobb speaks out
Residents packed a small meeting room at Mountain View Library on Sandy Plains Road during Birrell’s afternoon town hall.
A large crowd remained in the lobby of the library waiting for a chance to enter the room filled to capacity and slowly trickled in as police officers filled seats.
Mary Karras, who lives in Roswell and works in Cobb, says the stadium will bring visitors to the county’s hotels, restaurants and retailers.
“We don’t have a calculator that big,” Karras said told Birrell. “It’s untold what that’s going to do to Cobb.”
About half of the speakers at the meeting were for the deal with the other half criticizing the proposal.
Melanie Smith, a Cobb resident, questioned why public money will subsidize a private stadium for a wealthy Major League Baseball team while Cobb schools have an $80 million budget deficit. A mix of applause and boos followed Smith’s statements prompting Chairman Lee to chastise the crowd and urge them to “be respectful.”
“I am sorry the school system is having an $80 million deficit, but that is on the state and on the school system,” Lee said, adding the school system and county have separate budgets and tax residents separately.
South Cobb wants a piece of the pie
A similarly well-attended, though less contentious, town hall meeting was held just an hour later by southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid at the South Cobb Community Center in Mableton. She’s undecided on how she’ll vote tonight and said she understands concerns over the rush to enter into a deal.
“I know timing is an issue. I know that,” Cupid said. “I know that we have had five days to flush out an MOU. I know that Thanksgiving is in three days. I know that.”
Cupid said she was “hurt to see the level of creativity to make this deal happen” because that same creativity has not been brought to the table when attempting to address problems in south Cobb.
“A concern of mine is that, if this comes, should we depend on trickle-down economics and hope it comes or will we see direct benefits to District Four?” Cupid said.
Jennifer DeVault of Austell questioned the county’s commitment of $300 million when budgetary restrictions cause some projects, particularly in south Cobb, to be put on the back burner.
“There are a lot of people in here with tomahawks and Braves signs, but not all of them live in this district,” she said.
But Mary Anderson Hill, a resident of Mableton, thinks the stadium could bring needed revenue to south Cobb’s schools.
“We have top-rated schools in many parts of Cobb and Title I schools in this part of Cobb,” said Hill, a former principal at Riverside Intermediate School in Mableton.