Sounding off on Lee: Officials give their take on recent allegations against the BoC Chairman
by Ricky Leroux
August 22, 2014 04:00 AM | 6220 views | 17 17 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee dives into his "State of the County"  address in January. A story published Sunday by the Atlanta media describes attorney Dan McRae’s involvement in the deal between the county and the ballclub to build a new $672 million stadium in the Cumberland area. The story alleges Lee acted inappropriately by working with McRae from July through November 2013 without knowledge or approval from the rest of the board or county attorney Deborah Dance.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Cobb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee dives into his "State of the County" address in January. A story published Sunday by the Atlanta media describes attorney Dan McRae’s involvement in the deal between the county and the ballclub to build a new $672 million stadium in the Cumberland area. The story alleges Lee acted inappropriately by working with McRae from July through November 2013 without knowledge or approval from the rest of the board or county attorney Deborah Dance.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
MARIETTA — Members of the Cobb Board of Commissioners have taken different positions on the allegation Chairman Tim Lee acted inappropriately when he engaged an attorney to do preliminary work on the deal to bring the Atlanta Braves to the county.

A story published Sunday by the Atlanta media describes attorney Dan McRae’s involvement in the deal between the county and the ballclub to build a new $672 million stadium in the Cumberland area. The story alleges Lee acted inappropriately by working with McRae from July through November 2013 without knowledge or approval from the rest of the board or county attorney Deborah Dance.

“The essence of the story is … that I worked with Dan McRae, who is the attorney for the Cobb County Development Authority. I worked with him at no cost to the county to help figure out what financial opportunities were available to the county as far as the Braves deal,” Lee told the Marietta Daily Journal earlier this month.

Dance told the MDJ on Thursday she has “authority and discretion to hire attorneys to work on behalf of Cobb County, Georgia.”

She said because McRae was not paid, she considers his work a public service.

“Because there was no attorney contract and no money exchanged hands relative to Dan McRae’s services on behalf of the county, my professional opinion is that he provided those services to the county pro bono as a public service,” she wrote in an email.

Dance declined to answer questions regarding whether she believed Lee acted unethically by working with McRae.

“I am going to decline to answer your other questions seeking my professional opinion as the county attorney. My role is to provide legal guidance to our elected officials and staff,” she wrote.

The Atlanta article goes on to say McRae included his firm, Seyfarth Shaw, as the county’s bond attorney in an early draft of the memorandum of understanding between the Braves and the county. The document spells out the terms of the agreement between the two parties. As county attorney, Dance removed the firm from the document in a subsequent draft.

She confirmed McRae’s firm was in fact, at one point, listed as bond counsel on Thursday.

“McRae’s firm name was included in a single draft of the MOU, as referenced in the AJC article,” Dance said. “… Upon observing the inclusion, I spoke with Mr. McRae and advised a decision had not been reached on outside counsel. I was aware at the time that the County had a competitively bid contract to perform bond work on behalf of the County. McRae did not object, and the document was approved by the full board of commissioners with no reference to the firm,” Dance said.

Calls made to Chairman Lee were not returned by press time.

Ott, Cupid weigh in

Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the area where the stadium is planned to be built, said Lee may not have broken any laws, but it doesn’t mean what he did was right.

“I don’t think that he violated any laws or procedures, but he clearly violated the spirit of the law because that’s not how things are supposed to be done,” Ott said.

Ott said while he understood the need for secrecy at times, “there comes a time when that has to end and the rest of the commissioners have to be brought on board. And that clearly wasn’t done, which is inappropriate. There’s five of us up there with equal votes. You know, we should be all up there working together, not independently. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree, but we can’t be working outside of the full board.”

When he finally did find out about the Braves deal, Ott said “it seemed like everybody knew but me.”

Ott said if there was a need for secrecy on the deal, only a handful of people should have known, “and that doesn’t mean kitchen cabinets, especially if the Board of Commissioners doesn’t know.”

The board needs to examine its procedures, Ott said, to “make sure that the board … is involved in future endeavors.”

Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who was the lone vote against the memorandum of understanding between the Braves and the county in November, said she does not have enough information to say whether Lee violated any ethics code.

“Nonetheless, the hurried pace of the deal, along with limited public engagement for significant public dollars, will continue to leave the perception that there was a violation of public trust somewhere along the way,” she said.

Cupid also said McRae’s involvement did not follow the procedure as she understood it.

“That’s typically not protocol, from my experience, for an attorney to be engaged without it going through legal or through the commissioners. That I don’t mind sharing,” she said.

Goreham, Birrell state the facts

Commissioner Helen Goreham offered no opinion

“I know that the AJC ran their article. And there has been — probably — some public reaction to it, not very much. But based on the only facts that I have are the facts that no county moneys were paid to Mr. McRae. No contract was issued to Mr. McRae. And it appears that the chairman was seeking expert advice in an area that he does not have any expertise in,” she said.

Goreham, who is retiring from her post at the end of the year, added some commissioners may seek outside legal advice before an issue is voted on. She would not, however, say whether she believed Lee acted unethically.

“Based on the facts I have, I don’t see — well, I don’t even want to go there,” she said.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell took a similar path.

“I guess, with his background and knowledge, the chairman asked him for advice. So, I mean, it’s my understanding that there was no contract, per se. He was doing everything and not charging the county for his work. So, that was my understanding of the scenario.”

Birrell said any decision regarding legality or an ethics violation would be investigated by the proper authority, if necessary.

“I guess a court of law or the attorney general or someone would have to determine if there was an ethics violation or anything was done illegally. I don’t know,” she said.

Candidates offer their positions

Democrat Derrick Crump is challenging Republican Bob Weatherford to replace Goreham as the District 1 commissioner. The election will be held on Nov. 4.

Crump said Lee’s biggest mistake was not soliciting more input from taxpayers early on in the process.

“To really get to the point, and what I believe is the heart of the matter, and that is this: The people, the taxpayers, who I represent and who I speak for, simply were not represented. And that is really the travesty here,” he said.

Crump also disagreed with Lee keeping the Braves deal secret from the commissioners.

“I could never give consent to that sort of behavior because this is a board. And I don’t quite see how the board can function as a unified body if there are members of the board that are privy to certain information while others are not,” he said.

Weatherford took a different position, saying while he doesn’t know all the details, he seeks outside opinions “all the time.”

“Well, I certainly don’t know all the details. And I’ve learned to not always take everything I read as the truth. But I believe that it was appropriate to reach out to a subject matter expert,” he said.

Weatherford said the issue at hand is whether or not McRae was technically hired — an issue he cannot decide.

“Whether he hired him or not, I think, is what the question (is), and that would be something that — you know, someone other than me would have to make that determination if he did or not. That would be a subject of an ethics investigation.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Ethics Board?
August 23, 2014
This has nothing to do with the Braves deal, and everything to do with Tim Lee thinking that voters elected him the King of Cobb. He broke the rules. And...who is helping him hide from Open Records requests for 10 months?
August 22, 2014
I don't think Bob Ott flip flopped. He can be for the Braves moving to Cobb AND for ethical behavior from the Chairman.
Lee did good!
August 22, 2014
I see the whiners are out here again, but Lee obviously did nothing wrong and actually without secrecy the deal would never have been done. Had Lee let it out that the Braves were negotiating coming to Cobb all hell would have broken loose after any one of the "for background only" commissioners spilled the beans. Then there would be no way the Braves would come. Here are some things that would have happened:

-The land prices would have doubled.

-Atlanta would try to make a better offer

-The AJC and MDJ would come out against the deal because they hate Lee.

-The GA legislature would have passed a law to stop it.

-Minorities would cry foul that it was moving from Atlanta.

-Debbie Dooley would be screaming

-Lee's opponents such as Savage and Byrne would have a field day.

-Opening day 2017 would be at Turner field

-Cobb would not reep the tens of millions of tax dollars and hundreds of millions (or Billions) of new construction that is set to kick off in the Cumberland area.

-Cobb whiners would be instead screaming about how Lee likes the Chamber of Commerce.

Thank you Mr. Lee for bringing the Braves and revenue to Cobb. Sometimes there is no story but papers in Atlanta need to keep paying subscribers so they try to make something out of nothing knowing that the politicians will pounce anyway. Here is the latest example.
That's Right
August 22, 2014
Lee DID do good! And most business people KNOW that. And, he is NOT an unethical person. Some folks just jump on any negative bandwagon out there!
Chris Peters
August 22, 2014
It's equally disturbing that the County Attorney would defend hiring McCrae as a "public service." Adding $400 million in debt that is backed only by the taxing authority of the County isn't exactly my idea of a public service.

I think she ought to re-read her own job description. There is probably something in there about representing the interests of people other than the Atlanta Braves organization.
August 22, 2014
Laws aside, what Tim Lee is unethical. The voters should have had a say. I'm sure we will hear more about Lee's agenda to get the rail system from northeast Cobb down to the new Braves stadium since TSPLOST was voted against. It's all about Lee and how much he can get away with.

Inside Observer
August 22, 2014
Let me get this straight. The entire top half of this article quotes the "Atlanta media." It is obviously a specific story from the AJC. The MDJ should be sued for not attributing this information fully.

Secondly, Lee wouldn't even call you back? Doesn't the MDJ have anyone who has built a professional working relationship with this man. The MDJ only gives him awards and takes his picture. Wow, Lee really does run the show in Cobb, including with the local press.

Try not to get scooped next time.
Just Wait
August 22, 2014
Did you really think any of them would call Lee out as a lying, cheating scoundrel?
August 22, 2014
Tim Lee obviously takes his ques from Obama. He seems to think he can do whatever, whenever he wants and use our tax money to do it. This should have been voted on by the residents and tax payers of Cobb County. He IS using our tax $$$ no matter how he spins it. I sure hope the BOC is looking for other jobs because they will NOT be voted back into office. I also would like them to come and spend some driving time on Akers Mill/Powers Ferry Road. It's a nightmare now and will only get worse once that stupid Braves thing is built.
hot in the head
August 22, 2014
Yea Obama, your a right wing hothead who will believe anything. Maybe you read the MDJ too much. I guess you also believe Obama is a Muslim having been told so here at the MDJ. Have you seen the pied piper lately?
lido too
August 22, 2014
I love how these people quoted all side step the issue. No one wants to come out and make Tim Lee an enemy, or the CID or any of those puppet masters out there who are calling the shots, and dismissing taxpayers interests. Everyone is trying to protect themselves here. Politicians every one of them. Sad commentary on the world we live in, and the way our government is moving. I wish someone would have the guts to call Tim lee out on this, call for an investigation, impeachment, censure or whatever. Again, good cannot prevail when we have some snakes in office.
August 22, 2014
August 22, 2014
Well actually there was a county employee involved with this issue: Tim Lee.
flip flop bob ott
August 22, 2014
Bob Ott is against the Braves deal now that he found one tiny portion he didn't have his finger in?

Despite the rest of the commission making fun of her when she was elected, Commissioner Cupid is the only one of the lot who seems to understand her role as a public servant.
August 22, 2014
I must have read a different article than you. Where did Ott say he was against the Braves deal?
flip flop ott
August 23, 2014
The first six sentence/paragraphs under "Ott, Cupid weigh in" are Flip Flop Ott trying to play both sides and say he is now against how the Braves deal went down, despite having been one of its strongest advocates while it was going down.

That is spineless and a flip flop and I hope it eats him alive at the ballot box in next election.

If you shove something down someone's throat while yelling 'EAT THIS' don't back later apologizing for yelling "EAT THIS" like FLIP FLOP OTT just did
My Uncle the Plumber
August 22, 2014
This is not an issue of Lee asking McRae for advise. The issue is that McRae was hired by Lee to negotiate for Cobb County. And, yes, he was paid in November. He did not get the $4 million that he wanted, but he was paid.

Lee did not follow proper procedure. He should have engaged the County Attorney who has been hired by the full Board to hire outside attorneys.

The Ethics Board will not be investigating. The have no budget, no investigators, and are unpaid volunteers. Any Citizen efforts would be dismissed since it has been more than 6 months since this happened.

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