The Board of Commissioners approved the basic framework of the deal Nov. 26 with only Lisa Cupid, the commissioner repre-senting south Cobb, voting against. A final contract still must be appr-oved.
Like Cupid, the coalition of groups calling itself Citizens for Governmental Transparency is looking for more answers and a full risk analysis, said Tom Barks-dale, who heads the East Cobb Demo-cratic Alliance and penned the letter on behalf of the coalition.
The letter “respectfully requests that the Cobb County Board of Commissioners provide answers to the questions posed in this letter by Dec. 27.”
The questions have to do with financing, economic impact, transportation, taxes and other issues. It can be read in full online at mdjonline.com.
“I think it comes down to what are the actual facts, and where is the solid evidence of actual revenue that this (stadium development) is going to generate,” Barksdale said.
“And we have it on solid source that a number of other stadiums with exactly the same model did not materialize to the extent that was promised. So, what benefits are actually going to be derived? That would be my biggest question.”
One of the examples cited is the Braves’ minor league stadium in Gwinnett County, which Madison Forum president Michael Opitz, also a member of the coalition, said “has not panned out” as planned.
The coalition’s letter
says a 3 percent car rental tax plus stadium-generated revenue won’t be enough to cover the debt when principal payments begin in 2014. They based that claim on a recent Reason magazine article.
Not ready to sue
Barksdale is a retired intelligence analyst for the U.S. government who started the East Cobb Democratic Alliance in 2005, a group he said now has 30 to 35 “active members” with 200 to 300 on its membership rolls.
He said the diverse coalition, which includes liberal and conservative groups, has not hired a lawyer and does not, at this time, plan to file a lawsuit against the county. But that option has not been taken off the table.
“We do have lawyers in our group but we have not specifically hired one,” Barksdale said. “We are not backing a lawsuit at this time. We don’t rule it out in the future, but we’re not really confronting the board in any confrontational way. It’s an option we all hold open. There are some serious issues we all hope to get answers to.”
The coalition’s letter states that some of the groups involved are in favor of bringing the Braves to Cobb, they just would like to see more information.
The organization is made up of 11 organizations ranging from the conservative Cobb Taxpayers Association, the Madison Forum and the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, to the liberal East Cobb Democratic Alliance and Cobb County Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Rich Pellegrino’s Cobb Immigrant Alliance.
They conducted a press conference Friday morning to formally read the letter and then presented it to the commissioners’ office.
Lee says he will respond
Commission Chairman Tim Lee said late Friday afternoon that he hadn’t had a chance to read the letter yet but would make an effort to answer any specific questions posed.
“We’ll put it in line and answer it just like everyone else’s questions we get, but we will respond to it in a timely manner to the best of my ability,” Lee said.
Lee said he has not had many formal requests for information from citizens.
“Not really,” he said. “The types of questions I’m getting now are more the type, how did I personally, Tim Lee, ‘how the heck did you do that?’ The negotiations aspect. That sort of intrigues people.”
Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association and a member of the new coalition, said he recognizes that “most people are enthused about the Braves coming to Cobb County” but he wants to be able to examine the merits of the deal based on facts, not fanciful projections and promises.
“It’s the issue of how it’s being financed,” he said.
Lamberton said his primary concern is that, if the projections of tax revenue fall short, individual Cobb County taxpayers could be called upon down the road to make up the difference.
“If that’s the case, it’s stealing from the poor to give to the rich,” he said.
Barksdale said it would take a big issue like the Braves stadium to bring such diverse groups together.
“This is probably one of the most unusual coalitions in America today,” he said. “There’s not very many places where this diverse of groups could get together and ask their local government for solutions. Looking at some of my partners, I would never have felt I would be involved in their lives and I’m sure they feel the same way about me, but here we are. There are some real issues that need to be resolved here.”
Barksdale said he believes it is the diversity of the group that will get leaders’ attention.
“I am cautiously optimistic they will recognize this is a broad-based coalition of citizens and that they would take the time to answer, and that these are legit questions posed by their constituents and we are hoping for an answer by Dec. 27.”
Read the six-page letter from Citizens for Governmental Transparency, which lists questions and concerns about the deal.