Need for more transparency and PR in Braves-Cobb stadium doings
by Don McKee
May 30, 2014 12:16 AM | 1710 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Braves move to Cobb has looked like a homerun from the start, weighing the benefits and the costs to county taxpayers. Not only is Cobb getting a major league baseball team, but a large-scale development around the new stadium promises to expand economic activity and county tax revenues.

As should always be the case, the agreements between Cobb and the Braves must be transparent, even though the initial deal was negotiated without public notice, the usual routine in such matters. But something happened on the way to Tuesday’s vote by the county commissioners in favor of bonds for the new stadium and a series of contracts sealing the 30-year deal.

The first something was Chairman Tim Lee’s release of the details of the bond plan and contracts after close of business last Friday, on a holiday weekend before the commission voted on the deal at its Tuesday meeting. That’s when it emerged that the county would issue $397 million in bonds — and not the $368 million originally announced as Cobb’s share of the stadium’s $672 million cost.

The additional $29 million was needed as a “cushion” to allow flexibility, according to county finance director Jim Pehrson as the MDJ reported Sunday.

The flexibility turned out to be $20.4 million for capitalized interest on the bonds, $4.7 million for expenses, such as legal fees, a financial advisor, rating agencies and an underwriter, Pehrson said. Still, he insisted the county stands behind the original $368 million cost. The $29 million cushion, he said, is needed in case there’s a court challenge of the bond validation process — which would appear to be highly likely in view of the vociferous opposition to the stadium deal by some people. That would delay the bond issue for up to a year, and interest rates could rise, Pehrson said.

That seems to make sense. But what doesn’t make sense was for Lee to not make public the $29 million cushion sooner. Obviously, it would not have made any difference in the outcome of the Tuesday votes.

Neither would comments from a few opponents, but Lee refused to permit that because of a policy allowing no more than 12 speakers on a first-come, first-speak basis. Opponents were shut out because supporters of the stadium lined up starting at 1:45 p.m. and filled all 12 slots for the 7 p.m. meeting. When opponents shouted to be heard, Lee denied them and eventually they were escorted out by Cobb police, a terrible photo-op for the news media.

This was a case where some common sense, not to mention a little public relations awareness, was called for. Lee could have allowed some of the opponents to be heard in view of the “stacking of the deck” by supporters. It would not have affected the outcome one bit. And the spectacle of police removing people from the meeting room was far worse than words spoken by opponents.

Needed: more transparency and public relations sense.
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