The complaint, filed by retired businessman Larry Savage of east Cobb on March 7, accuses the four officials of violating their oaths of office, the county’s ethics code and the state Constitution by voting in favor of building a $672 million stadium for the Atlanta Braves near the Cumberland Mall. Savage argues the county does not have the authority to create the special tax districts to help finance the stadium with public funds.
County staff attorney Linda Brunt filed a response to Savage’s complaint Monday asking the ethics board to dismiss the complaint, which she called unfounded and based on mere allegations and non-legal claims.
Brunt said the memorandum of understanding between the county and Braves was thoroughly vetted by the Atlanta-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw and the financial consulting firm Public Financial Management.
She also said the ethics board is the wrong body for such a complaint.
“If Savage wishes to challenge the legal sufficiency of the processes that will result from the (memorandum of understanding), he must address his allegations in court,” Brunt writes. “Savage has instead asserted these allegations in the wrong forum. As stated publicly, he seeks to avoid the costs of a lawsuit by attacking the actions and legislation of the commissioners before the Board of Ethics.”
Savage said he will be present at tonight’s meeting of the ethics board. Remarking on the county’s response to his complaint, he said, “I think they’re focusing a little bit too much on the part about the attorney’s fees. I did say that at one time.”
Savage said he’s long studied the proper mechanism that allows a citizen to hold public officials accountable.
“The idea that you have to hire a lawyer and go to court is what most people think of, but unfortunately, when you go to court against the government, you’re paying for both sides in as much as they’re financed with taxpayer money. And they can basically beat you over time simply with stalling tactics and motion after motion and delay after delay until you just run out of resolve or run out of money or whatever,” he said. “So that doesn’t strike me as being very attractive.”
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said Tuesday afternoon she was still deciding whether to attend tonight’s meeting or watch it on the county’s TV channel.
“I don’t think there’s any substance here, but the ethics board will be making that decision when they meet tomorrow night as far as if it’s anything to bring forward to a hearing,” Birrell said. “I stand behind my vote on the MOU for the Braves. We haven’t done anything unethical or illegal with regard to these allegations and complaints.”
The ethics board is chaired by retired Lt. Col. Mike Patellis of east Cobb. Other board members include Darrell Sutton, Richard Ziober, Doug Shaddix, Walter Moon, Robert Johnson and Deborah King.
The board will meet at 6 p.m. in the commission chamber, located at 100 Cherokee St., Marietta.