Warped priorities driving hasty stadium deal
by Kevin Foley
November 22, 2013 12:00 AM | 2493 views | 8 8 comments | 60 60 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Liberty Media is a publically traded corporation headquartered in Colorado that owns or has an interest in dozens of media and entertainment properties, including the Atlanta Braves.

Liberty’s chairman, John Malone, has a personal net worth of nearly $7 billion and his company has a market cap of almost $17 billion. Liberty Media stock closed at $146 per share the other day.

The fabulously wealthy Mr. Malone wants us Cobb County rubes to give him $300 million, 45 percent of the cost for a new Braves stadium. Malone could stroke a check for $300 million himself, but he’d rather you do it, the taxpayers of a county where the mean household income is $47,000.

Incredibly, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners is on the verge of handing over that $300 million to this multi-billionaire so his multi-millionaire employees can play baseball here.

The behind the scenes deal-making between the Cobb commissioners, Liberty Media, and the Braves has been described as “swift and stealthy” - sort of like a shell game.

As often happens, some are luckier than others in such games of chance. For example, Scott & Associates, the Atlanta real estate investment firm, had the remarkable good fortune to purchase Circle 75 Office Park right next door to the proposed stadium just a couple of weeks before the Braves-Cobb County deal was announced.

“This is another example of the good ol’ boys getting rich and the taxpayers getting the shaft,” Atlanta Tea Party co-chair Debbie Dooley told the Associated Press. I’d add some good ol’ boys may also have an eye on free skyboxes.

Not only is this an astonishing corporate giveaway, the proposed stadium location is atrocious.

Imagine sitting in I-75’s normal traffic congestion one hot July Friday evening. Now add 35,000 fans from all over metro Atlanta arriving by car for a 7:30 Braves game. Nightmare doesn’t begin to describe the scenario for Cobb County commuters irrespective of any proposed highway improvements.

Unless they rise up and demand otherwise, Cobb County taxpayers have only one opportunity to weigh in when the commission meets to approve the stadium deal Nov. 26. That’s two days before Thanksgiving when many of us are already headed off to grandma’s for turkey.

Did somebody say stealthy?

Speaking of turkeys, the commission says the $300 million will come from new hotel and rental car taxes, a new tax on owners of commercial property within the Cumberland Community Improvement District, and the 30-year extension of the parks bond taxes set to expire in 2017 and 2018.

“The .33 mills is what I need to make the deal happen financially, and I’m not postponing it,” Commission Chairman Tim Lee defiantly told the MDJ.

Shouldn’t such a huge expenditure of county tax dollars be subject to public hearings?

“I don’t know that having a public hearing would add to the objective of getting more input since we’ve got a lot of input to date,” Lee told an interviewer.

What input? The stadium deal was unveiled only last week.

“Just five months ago, an $86 million budget deficit forced (the Cobb County School Board to cut) 182 teachers and forced mandatory furlough for the rest, but the money simply wasn’t there” writes Loren Collins at the 300millionreasons.com website. “And yet, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners seems to have discovered $300 million in its couch seat cushions…”

Cobb County doesn’t need the Braves. It does need better schools, more and better-paid teachers, major infrastructure improvements, and quality, high-paying jobs, not part-time peanut vendor positions.

So what’s the big rush? The Braves aren’t going anywhere.

Lee and the commission need to slow down, make their case at town halls after the holidays, and listen to taxpayers.

Kevin Foley owns a PR company in Kennesaw.
Comments
(8)
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Dr. Teresa
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November 24, 2013
FWGuy is right on. Kevin, you know better than to throw the School Board budget issues into this mix. You did this just to deliberately mis-lead your readers. The stadium and the other developments will only help the cash strapped CCSD and you know it. Don't pretend to be stupider than you really are.
Guido Sarducci
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November 25, 2013
Dr. Teresa. You might want to take a course in comprehensive reading. Foley's only reason for bringing up the school board issue was to illustrate the diffrence in the responsibility factor of the leaders of the CCSD, as opposed to Lee and his team of "rah rah" puppets. (No place did he even suggest that the county and the school board budgets are tied to each other.)

The school board faced a budget shortage and took steps to deal with it.

Lee is looking at a budget shortage, but he is taking the Obama approach. "Hey, we are broke, so let's increase our spending and that will help us." That kind of thinking only works in the movies and Tim Lee's pipe dreams.

Doc Hollidawg
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November 22, 2013
Maybe Liberty Media should send all of their employees to the Health Exchanges too?

Ask not what you can do for your country, but what can your country do for you. The liberal mantra and seems very appropriate this day.
J Kazanow
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November 22, 2013
Kevin,

Your comments are right on. You raised excellent points. The county office supply contract gets substantially more public comment than the stadium deal will receive. Right or wrong, Cobb county taxpayers need the right to weigh in on the deal. The decision needs to be postponed at least 60 days for public comment and a true airing of the facts.

A $300 million decision about Cobb County's future should not be made stealthilly, in back rooms, to benefit a few good 'ol boys. We need to end this type of corporate welfare.
Guido Sarducci
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November 22, 2013
SPOT ON! KEVIN.

I couldn't agree with you more.

Should we both be scared that we agree on something?
CobbCoGuy
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November 22, 2013
"Fr. Sarducci"

Add me to the mix. KF nailed it!

Excellent piece, KF.
Probably
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November 22, 2013
For a rare moment, Foley might be correct. But, his insight is not that profound. He is accusing crony politicians who are currently in power of helping their buddies and benefiting somewhere in the fog of cash exchanging hands.

While I think he is probably correct, he is only so because instead of it being his side that gets their palms greased, it is the other.
FWGuy
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November 22, 2013
Let me see if I understand this. You think Mr. Malone should "stroke" a check for the Braves stadium instead of getting the taxpayers to fund part of it. After all, his net worth is over $7 billion.

All the while, in recent columns you have boasted about your financial success and yet want the taxpayers to pony up for a large portion of the insurance premiums on your employees. Why don't you "stroke" a check for ALL of your employees' insurance cost. After all, you can afford it. You've been affording it until you saw a window of opportunity to fleece the taxpayers. Don't think of yourself as one bit better than Mr. Malone. You both want taxpayer money.

You speak with forked tongue.
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