MARIETTA —The Georgia Supreme Court could hear the appeal of the bonds Cobb County plans to use to fund the construction of the new Atlanta Braves stadium in February 2015.
There are three appeals filed with the Supreme Court: one by retired businessman Larry Savage, one by attorney Tucker Hobgood and one by Austell resident Rich Pellegrino. If oral arguments are requested in these three appeals, they will likely be heard then.
The Supreme Court can choose to combine the three appeals, but it has not decided whether to do so yet.
The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority plans to issue up to $397 million to fund construction of the stadium, and the county has agreed to make payments on the bonds over the next 30 years.
Those who filed the appeals have 20 days from Oct. 24, the date the case was docketed, to file briefs laying out their arguments. After those briefs have been filed, attorneys representing the county and the authority have 20 days to review those arguments and file briefs of their own.
Kevin Moore is the attorney for Exhibit Hall Authority and will represent it in the Supreme Court. Moore said he is familiar with the arguments Savage, Hobgood and Pellegrino will likely make, because they made the same arguments at the initial July 7 hearing on the bond issuance in Cobb Superior Court.
“We certainly have begun our preparations to respond within that time frame,” Moore said. “The first thing that will occur is we’ll receive and they will file their allegations of errors and legal basis for their appeal.”
Attorneys Lesly Gaynor Murray and Blake Sharpton of law firm Butler Snow, the county’s bond counsel, will represent Cobb in the Supreme Court, according to Robert Quigley, county spokesperson.
Savage said he plans to wait a couple of weeks before submitting his brief.
“I don’t want to give them any more lead time than the law provides for them,” he said. “I’ll make it available with time to spare, but not too much time to spare.”
Savage said he is disappointed the date for the appeal to be heard is so far away, but he is glad a date has been set.
“I feel pretty good about the case, otherwise I wouldn’t be putting the time and energy into it that I have,” Savage said.
The Supreme Court could decide the case based solely on the briefs filed, but Savage said he plans to file a request for oral arguments.
“There are some things about my case that are familiar to the court, because they’ve decided cases like this before,” Savage said. “And I’m concerned that if I don’t represent it well, they might say, ‘Hey, this is just like all the others,’ and decide it like they’ve decided all the others. So, I feel like I’ve got a need to do everything I can to make it clear that this is a unique situation and that there are unique features here that have to be considered to get a proper decision.”
Savage’s argument targets the intergovernmental agreement between the county and the authority. He has said previously the county entered into the agreement because the county cannot take on debt without a public referendum, and having the authority issue the bonds avoids the requirement of a public vote.
“That’s how the intergovernmental agreement is configured,” Savage said in August. “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.”
The memorandum of understanding between the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, which details the terms of the public-private partnership to fund the stadium, states the Braves have the right to terminate the MOU and the stadium operating agreement “in the event the Bond Transaction has not closed in the Bond amount set forth in the Plan of Finance by December 31, 2014 …”
Unless the appeal date is moved up, the bonds transaction will not close by Dec. 31 because the appeal must be resolved before the bonds can be issued.
A statement from Braves spokesperson Beth Marshall said the ballclub does not plan on using this right.
“The Braves have no intention to exercise the termination right outlined in the Stadium Operating Agreement with Cobb County. The County has made a good faith effort to issue the bonds prior to the date outlined in the SOA. The process undertaken to issue the bonds was thorough and legally sound and we are confident that the bonds will be issued in a timely manner. This process was anticipated and we continue to move forward as planned.”
County Chairman Tim Lee said the Braves have been involved in discussions about the timetable of the bond issuance since the appeal was filed Aug. 22.
“The Braves have been more than aware of the timetable associated with the appeal process and potentially when it will be heard,” he said. “And there’s no hesitation on their part moving forward with the project.”