Lee’s Braves bobble might put SPLOST hopes in jeopardy
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
May 31, 2014 12:00 AM | 6254 views | 17 17 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COBB Commission Chairman Tim Lee bobbled what should have been an easy grounder at Tuesday’s meeting at which several crucial votes were taken regarding the pending move to the county by the Atlanta Braves.

The result? He played right into the hands of his critics and unnecessarily reignited controversy surrounding what had been seen by most as a done deal. In sports lingo, he put the other team “back in the game.”

And by so doing has he also put passage of the upcoming county road SPLOST at risk?

---

THE COMMISSION voted to approve financing of up to $397 million for the Braves’ new stadium, hired a construction manager and OK’d a contract that guarantees the team will be the stadium’s main tenant for the next 30 years.

Supporters of the move out-gamed opponents on Tuesday, showing up early in the afternoon to lay claim to all 12 of the speaking slots scheduled in the public comment portion of the meeting.

Opponents then lobbied Lee during the meeting to let them speak anyway. Trying to change the rules after you’ve lost the game is a spoiled-sport trick that rarely works, and it didn’t work this time, either. Lee refused loud pleas from three opponents (Rich Pellegrino, Ben Williams and Gary Pelphrey) to be allowed to speak; and after they persisted, had them removed. None of the other commissioners objected to their removal, not even Lisa Cupid, who voted against the financing package on Tuesday.

Lee won on the merits of the case.

But he lost in the court of public opinion.

Newspaper and TV accounts of the meeting made his refusal to let his critics have their say the centerpiece of those stories. And Lee and the commission came away looking thin-skinned and imperious. And those are just some of the nicer adjectives we’ve heard used in the past few days.

The main theme of those stories ran along the lines of “the commission refused to let people be heard.” Never mind that the commission held a number of public hearings last fall before taking the initial vote on the move. And never mind that opponents have mostly been recycling the same arguments since then.

The enduring image is one of Lee throwing his weight behind supporters of the move and clamping down on dissent.

If he’s curious about what that kind of thing can do to an elected leader’s reputation, he might drop a dime and give former Cobb School Board Chairman Dr. John Abraham a call. Abraham’s stature was forever diminished in 2009 when, after flip-flopping on a campaign promise about the school calendar, he angrily ordered police to remove sharp-tongued critic Vivian Jackson from a school board meeting during the public comment period because she tried to ignore his decree that no speaker could talk for more than 90 seconds.

Memo to public officials: In this country, it’s nearly always better to sit there and “take it,” or at least take it and then rebut it, than it is to prevent the public from criticizing you.

---

THE CRITICISM OF LEE that has been heard most often — even from some supporters of the deal — is that it suffers from a lack of transparency: that Lee and the Braves hammered out the deal in secret last summer and fall. That complaint was given legs by the speed with which Lee deftly maneuvered the measure to approval by the commission just weeks after it finally was revealed.

Complaints about the alleged lack of transparency were a staple at this spring’s candidate debates in the races for the two open seats on the county commission. Compounding Lee’s perception problems, the county, probably unwittingly, ordered the release of the documents pertaining to Tuesday’s vote late last Friday afternoon on the eve of a holiday weekend — which you learn in PR 101 is the best time for releasing information that might not be in your favor.

And on Tuesday night, by declining to bend the rules, and “sit there and take it” from a scant handful (and that’s all it was in a room otherwise packed with Braves supporters) of critics, Lee played right into the hands of those trying to stop the move. As one well-known politico used to quip, “Sometimes it’s better to just let people chew on you for a few minutes, then move on.”

---

SO WILL this week’s episode have longer repercussions?

First of all, will opponents of the move file suit during the bond-validation process in hopes of slowing the sale of the bonds for the project? Stay tuned.

And second, will controversy over the Braves spill into the county road-SPLOST extension vote many expect Lee to call for November? That is the last date on which a referendum can be held in conjunction with a general election in time for the 1 percent local sales tax to be extended for six years after its scheduled expiration date Dec. 31, 2015.

Lee has already been wrestling with whether to include $100 million for construction of a $492 million Bus Rapid Transit line in such a SPLOST referendum. Many courthouse watchers feel that would mean the defeat of the SPLOST. Opponents would paint a BRT-driven SPLOST as the second coming of the TSPLOST, which voters overwhelmingly shot down two years ago despite strong support for it from Lee and the Cobb Chamber. Commissioners are expected to decide in the next few weeks on whether to include the BRT in the SPLOST — and on the heels of Tuesday’s events, it might be wise to go ahead and deep-six the idea.

---

WILL OPPONENTS of the Braves move be able to capitalize on public distaste for how Lee refused to listen to any criticism on Tuesday and thereby transform the vote on the SPLOST into a de facto referendum on the Braves’ move? Passage of the SPLOST renewal will be tough regardless of whether it includes the BRT. The current SPLOST passed by only 90 votes of 43,041 cast, you’ll recall. Add to the mix enough voters upset about a perceived lack of transparency on the county’s behalf regarding the Braves’ move and Lee might find that drumming up enthusiasm for a SPLOST renewal is like trying to start a car with a dead battery.

So don’t be surprised to see Braves’ opponents try to parlay Tuesday’s fireworks into an attempt to undermine Lee and the SPLOST. But even if they try to do so, Lee has plenty of time to overcome Tuesday’s misplay.

And Lee also has what you might describe as the “ultimate trump card” — the enduring popularity of the Atlanta Braves, and the almost palpable excitement that many Cobb residents feel about the move.

POLITICS: Angela Barner, who just missed getting in the upcoming July 22 runoff for the District 1 seat representing northwest Cobb on the county commission, told Around Town on Friday afternoon that she is endorsing former Chairman Bill Byrne, who was the top vote-getter that day with 28 percent of the primary vote.

“I’ve put management style aside and I am basing my endorsement on the candidate that I feel will best protect homeowners and taxpayers alike. For me, that candidate is Bill Byrne,” she said.

Byrne opposes the BRT, is against higher property taxes and wants to preserve green space, she continued, adding the Cobb police department was one of the best in the region during his tenure as chair.

On the other hand, she says Byrne’s runoff opponent, former Acworth Councilman Bob Weatherford, is undecided on the SPLOST. And she hinted at the strong support he is getting from Cobb Chamber insiders.

“Weatherford is out of touch with District 1 voters, but seems to be very much in sync with the special interest groups that support BRT and his campaign,” she said.

MAKE of it what you wish: Byrne’s wife/campaign manager Babe Atkins-Byrne mailed AT that contrary to what we wrote last Saturday, Byrne has “NO INTENTION” of running against Lee in two years.

---

SICK BAY: David Downing, husband of recently retired Cobb Tax Commissioner Gail Downing, has spent most of the week in ICU in Omaha after coming down with viral pneumonia while visiting relatives. … Former commission chair candidate/outspoken Braves-deal critic Larry Savage went for what was supposed to be a routine run along the Hooch on Thursday but ended up looking like he’d tried to go a round with Mike Tyson after he tripped and did a face plant on the gravel trail. An ambulance ride to Northside Hospital’s ER came next, plus eight stitches and a black eye swollen completely shut.

---

MARIETTA lawyer Justin O’Dell just missed colliding with a large black bear as it ran across Delk Road near Life University on Thursday evening. And O’Dell, a native of rural Idaho, knows a thing or two about bears.

Comments
(17)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Mind set there
|
June 06, 2014
The mind set of the commissioners has already been set, so it doesn't matter who speaks. It will be sad when a new transit system starts bringing in the homeless and crime to the area of the new Braves stadium. Then, when the Braves pull out after ten years, CC taxpayers will be on the hook and Lee will be long gone. I hope Superior plumbing will be willing to kick in some money.
HotinAtlanta
|
June 02, 2014
You can't tell me that Tim Lee didn't pay the "supporters" to show up at 1:00 to be sure there would be no opponents allowed to speak. There are more than just a handful of opponents. We just weren't allowed to hold a vote on this from the very beginning which is our right as tax payers. This whole thing stinks of pay offs and, especially since it's been announced that the EVP of the Braves has been put on the CID board! Why are we allowing Lee and his cronies to continue to serve on the BOC! We need to call for a total removal of all and start all over and rescind the Braves contract until the tax payers can vote as to whether or NOT we want our tax $$ to be spent on this frivolous, unnecessary traffic and crime increasing move to Cobb County.
You are incorrect
|
June 02, 2014
No one was paid. You are not correct. They came early because they care about this county and are excited about the positive things going on. They said this several times when speaking and several said since they are small biz owners they lost money by being there early. Get your facts straight and stop making false claims.
casual observer
|
June 02, 2014
Hey - you don't get to vote on everything. We live in a Republic, not a Democracy. We elect representatives (Commissioners) to make the big decisions for us. If we don't like how they do their job, we can vote them out. Do you even understand how it works?
THE TRUTH
|
June 02, 2014
The Commissioners, The Braves, those who support, those who are against all had their say at one time or the other since this was announced in November. This was a good deal, it was structured correctly and is now moving forward. I expect the public will have multiple opportunities between now and first pitch in 2017 to continually have their say in making sure everything that was promised, is delivered. And I am quite certain it will be and more. That is accountability, something we do quite well here in Cobb.
Media Stunt
|
June 01, 2014
The rules were clearly stated and promoted for Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting. The opposition to the Braves knew there were only 12 speaker spots but didn't show up until shortly before the meeting began, which was very clear they planned it that way for this media stunt. They didn't make a fuss when the rules were restated, but ONLY when the CAMERAS were turned ON. It was very clear to those in the audience that this was a media act to get attention. Not to mention, the ones making the big fuss have had many opportunities since November to voice their concerns. Their voice has been heard many times and that is an incorrect statement to say they have not had the opportunity to speak.
GetforREALnow
|
June 01, 2014
It's ALWAYS about the turnout

The collection of opposing groups which united together under Pelligrino and Debbie Doofus united last November to be one "Large" group/voice and get heard.

They held Such a grandiose press conference in front of the Library on November 26 just before Commissioner Birrell's town hall meeting to discuss the Braves and MOU, that they got STAR STRUCK with all the media attention and forgot to go into the room where the meeting was being held.

Sure the group turned out for the media but not for the meeting. By the time they were done getting attention from the media, the meeting room had FILLED. They then caused a ruckus and claimed FOUL for not having seats for them.

ITS all about the turn out.

They then VOWED to vote Comissioner Birrell OUT OF OFFICE. (Opponents Michael Opitz & Joseph Chicken Pond are members of the groups opposing the Braves move to Cobb County)

But again FAILED to get the turnout.

Last Tuesday night at the Commissioners meeting they again focused on the media but FAILED to get the TURNOUT.

The room was OVERWHELMINGLY filled with supporters of the Braves move to Cobb. If there were 2 dozen opposed I would be shocked.

Not so sure I would worry about a failed SPLOST (pending a good project list) if this is the same group opposing it.

SPLOST funds over 95% of Cobb DOT and has proven to make tremendous enhancements to our county parks and recreation making Cobb County the very BEST county in Georgia
Get REAL
|
June 01, 2014
It's ALWAYS about the turnout

The collection of opposing groups which united together under Pelligrino and Debbie Doofus united last November to be one "Large" group/voice and get heard.

They held Such a grandiose press conference in front of the Library on November 26 just before Commissioner Birrell's town hall meeting to discuss the Braves and MOU, that they got STAR STRUCK with all the media attention and forgot to go into the room where the meeting was being held.

Sure the group turned out for the media but not for the meeting. By the time they were done getting attention from the media, the meeting room had FILLED. They then caused a ruckus and claimed FOUL for not having seats for them.

ITS all about the turn out.

They then VOWED to vote Comissioner Birrell OUT OF OFFICE. (Opponents Michael Opitz & Joseph Chicken Pond are members of the groups opposing the Braves move to Cobb County)

But again FAILED to get the turnout.

Last Tuesday night at the Commissioners meeting they again focused on the media but FAILED to get the TURNOUT.

The room was OVERWHELMINGLY filled with supporters of the Braves move to Cobb. If there were 2 dozen opposed I would be shocked.

Not so sure I would worry about a failed SPLOST (pending a good project list) if this is the same group opposing it.

SPLOST funds over 95% of Cobb DOT and has proven to make tremendous enhancements to our county parks and recreation making Cobb County the very BEST county in Georgia
anonymous
|
June 01, 2014
The Opponents were very well aware of the rules. As usual, the Opponents wanted special treatment and a way around the rules. Sorry, guys.
Rich Pellegrino
|
June 01, 2014
Sorry "Anonymous" (does that stand for Chairman Lee or Chamber/Braves crony)....for once relating to the Braves deal the MDJ has it right in this article--except stating that there were only a handful of opponents there, which they and the Braves have always tried to minimize--we had at least 20 there and others who we didn't know but came up afterwards and signed up for our cause; and the new polls clearly state that we represent the majority of Cobb citizens' viewpoints on this deal--too much public financing and too little transparency and accountability on the part of our elected and appointed officials.

And as far as rules go....Chairman Lee has not followed any of the rules so far in this whole deal, and has changed or made them as he has gone along--which are already the subject of ethics complaints and soon to be filed lawsuits. Plus, the rules clearly state that he and the BOC can suspend the number and length of speaker slots for the meetings, which they have done in the past for such important and contentious issues. Let's face it, he blew it, confirming what we and many have suspected all along (arrogance of power and lack of competence in negotiating such big deals) and the MDJ is right, it does not forebode well for any of his future initiatives, especially those which involve public financing and taxes.
Idontloveit
|
May 31, 2014
I'm shocked that the MDJ has taken a pro-Braves stadium stance. Methinks something stinks.
Angry in Clarkdale
|
May 31, 2014
I haven't actively campaigned or worked on a major issue since the late 90's and early 2000's. Time to dust off my hat, walking shoes and play book and fight renewing the T-splost.
30066
|
May 31, 2014
When Lee took over as East Cobb Commissioner from Olens, I attended several Town Hall Meetings. Lee always had Olens with him. Olens often took over a question from the floundering Lee.

Lee was little more than Olens Lapdog. However, since most liked Olens, this was OK. Now Lee needed another Lap. He found the Chamber of Commerce, who was only too happy to give him money and direction... to the detriment of the subdivisions Lee had pledged to represent.

The MDJ is not without blame. Its failure to call out Commissioner Burrell on her ducking 4 debates in her run for re-election added to the lack of a complete and honest discussion. We feel Cheated.

I have lived in East Cobb since the 70s. I was proud of our county and the way it was run... no more. Now it is a miniature version of The Obama Administration.

We're Here
|
May 31, 2014
What occurred at the commission meeting is what is happening regarding ALL things political and with public sentiment towards large corporations. Citizens/voters/corporate employees are FED UP with be run over, talked down to and disregarded. This results in all government officials being distrusted and many incumbent politicians being voted Against, no matter what their voting record.

Note to politicians and corporate bigwigs-The great unwashed can only be pushed so far.
Diamond Jim
|
May 31, 2014
Lee blew it, plain and simple. He should have divided the speaking slots evenly to let the opponents have their say. His heavy handed, "done deal" approach will definitly turn off a lot of voters when the SPLOST comes up for a vote. He and the lame duck commission may have pushed this bond issue down our throats, but the voters WILL get their say on the SPLOST. And, as I and many others have said numerous times since this whole boondogle began, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg relative to what taxpayers are going to be expected to pony up before this project is finished. Next come the cost overruns and pleas for road improvements and a MARTA rail extension to the Cumberland area. Hide and watch!!
well organized
|
May 31, 2014
Thought the meeting made it clear that the pro Braves stadium people were well -organized but thought it pretty disgusting that no effort at all was made to hear the folks against it. It was a great example of how voters are just more or less run down by the machine. Meaning Lee's machine. I don't even have a dog in the fight but found myself feeling very sympathetic, and really, a little shocked at the treatment of the people who were against the idea. We used to be a democracy.
anonymous
|
June 01, 2014
It would just have been the "same ole' same ole'" from the "same ole'" bunch of people that will not accept the Braves are coming here period. Lee knew this, therefore, did waste everyone's time. Rightfully so. Cluck, cluck, Chicken guy that lost both his battle for chickens and also lost his bid (by a landslide)for a commission seat is one of those protesting. How many times does a loser get to speak his "same ole' same ole" broken record?
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides