At the May 27 commission meeting, the proceedings were clearly orchestrated, the room packed with supporters of the new Braves stadium. Just 12 speakers from the public were permitted, all pro-stadium.
When those opposing or questioning the deal attempted to speak up, they were removed by police officers, news footage of which was seen far and wide.
Here was another embarrassingly arrogant display of the secretive, ham-fisted way Chairman Tim Lee and the rest of the commission hustled the Braves stadium deal past taxpayers.
“If it had leaked out,” Braves President John Schuerholz explained last November of the sub rosa Braves-Cobb County negotiations, “this deal would not have gotten done ... more people would have started taking the position of, ‘We don’t want that to happen.’”
Maybe so, but public projects costing $400 million should to be subjected to rigorous public debate and thoughtful deliberations out in the open. We call that democracy.
Here’s the Cobb County Commission’s mission: “To make Cobb County the best place to live and work through efficient, effective and responsive government that delivers quality services.”
How handing $400 million to Braves’ owner Liberty Media Corporation achieves that objective only the commission understands.
Liberty Media can easily afford its own stadium. It has a market cap of nearly $15 billion and its CEO, John Malone, enjoys a personal net worth of $7 billion.
In contrast, the entire 2014 Cobb County budget is $815 million. The mean household income hereabouts is $65,000.
This is precisely what Republicans in Congress are doing; engineering huge tax dollar give-aways to billion-dollar corporations at the expense of the middle class and then telling us it’s for our own good.
Right on cue, Schuerholz said Liberty Media and the Braves are in business to magnanimously serve the public interest.
“(The stadium) will be to (our benefit), but principally it will be to our fans’ benefit,” Schuerholz disingenuously wrote in an op-ed last week.
He knows Liberty Media is “principally” concerned only about the “benefit” to its shareholders.
Cutting the Braves’ cost of the new stadium in half means more than $300 million falls to the parent corporation’s bottom line. John Malone, Liberty Media shareholders and Wall Street thank you.
To Liberty Media and Schuerholz, Braves fans are just chickens to be plucked ($100 gets you on the waiting list for season tickets at the new stadium!) You can now add Cobb taxpayers to the coop.
But the Braves promised to build a $400 million mixed-use development full of offices, hotels, restaurants and condos next to the ball yard, says Chairman Lee. Think of the new jobs and taxes!
“That is our goal,” Schuerholz said in his op-ed.
Wait. Goal? The word “goal” implies some degree of uncertainty. One can fall short of a goal, or a goal might change, perhaps drastically.
Published reports note the Braves are not contractually bound to build the mixed-use development for $400 million or $200 million or any million.
Braves executive Mike Plant blasted the reports as “reckless, irresponsible and grossly negligent,” claiming the club has already spent $70 million on the mixed-use development.
How do we know? Absent a binding contract, what guarantee does Cobb County have that Braves management will honor their end of the deal now that we’ve honored ours?
Since the stadium project was loudly trumpeted as a public-private partnership, I emailed my partner, Mike Plant, to ask if development expenditures will be made public so Cobb County taxpayers will know Braves management are on track to deliver on their $400 million promise.
You know, trust but verify.
Plant’s office replied thusly: “… we do not envision releasing financial data.”
Kevin Foley is an author, writer and public relations executive who lives in Kennesaw.