MARIETTA — The issuance of up to $397 million worth of bonds to finance the new Atlanta Braves stadium has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Monday was the last day to file an appeal of Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard’s July 25 validation of the bond issuance. Retired businessman Larry Savage, of east Cobb, and Tucker Hobgood, an attorney whose office is just across Interstate 285 from the site of the proposed stadium, filed separate notices of appeal on Friday.
A third notice of appeal was filed Friday by attorney Gary Pelphrey on behalf of Rich Pellegrino of Austell. This notice names Hobgood, Savage, Pellegrino, Pelphrey, Christopher Peters, James Allan Richardson, H. Benjamin Williams, James Strawn and Larry Wills.
Many of these petitioners argued against the bond issuance during the July 7 hearing before Judge Leonard.
The bonds cannot be issued until the appeal is resolved.
Procedurally, Savage said, the office of Cobb Superior Court Clerk Rebecca Keaton will begin gathering the documents requested by the petitioners and provide them to the state’s high court. Then, should the justices decide to hear the case, the case will be put on the Supreme Court’s calendar, he added.
From that point, applicants have 20 days to submit briefs in support of their appeal, Savage said.
His argument centers on the intergovernmental agreement between the county and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority.
The intergovernmental agreement states, among other things, the authority will own the stadium and issue the bonds to finance its construction, and Cobb County will provide it with enough funding to service the debt.
Savage says Cobb entered into the agreement with the authority because the county can only undertake debt after a public referendum.
“That’s how the intergovernmental agreement is configured,” he said. “In order to try to escape the requirement for the referendum, they’ll design it such that the county’s not paying for the debt, they’re paying the authority for some service.”
Savage said he knows appeals of bond issuances are normally decided in favor of the local government, but “there are a number of differences in this case that make the Cobb stadium debt unique and warrant an appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia.”
Marietta attorney Tom Cauthorn shared his thoughts with the Marietta Daily Journal about the appeal, noting he had not read Leonard’s original ruling.
“Intergovernmental agreements are a standard procedure utilized in Georgia to finance public projects using authorities,” he said.
Cauthorn said by arguing against the county using the authority to issue bonds, “he’s arguing against a half-century of utilization of authorities for that purpose, which is the way many, many, many things have been constructed in Georgia in terms infrastructure and public purpose projects.”
Beth Marshall, spokesperson for the Braves, issued a comment on the appeal on behalf of the organization.
“We were notified by the leadership in Cobb County that an appeal has been filed regarding the county’s bond validation. We have full confidence that our partners in Cobb County will successfully handle this appeal. Site work and pre-construction has been begun and we will continue to move forward,” the statement said.
County Chairman Tim Lee said the county assumed the bond validation would be appealed.
“We’ve anticipated that this would happen, and we planned for it. And so, we’ll just move forward with getting our position ready for the court, and we anticipate that it (will) be managed quickly and in our favor,” he said.
This is the second lawsuit challenging the Braves’ move to Cobb County in as many weeks. On Aug. 12, attorneys representing the owners of a property adjacent to the site of the proposed stadium filed an appeal of the commissioners’ rezoning and issuance of a special land use permit for the site.
That complaint, filed by Marietta City Attorney Doug Haynie and his partner Dan White, alleges the rezoning application for the property did not contain the information normally required for such requests, and as a result, the general public was denied its due process rights because it did not have complete information.