Cobb Chairman Lee Apologizes For the Handling of the Braves Stadium Deal

In response to an ethics complaint filed by Cobb County resident Tom Cheek, Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee issued a formal apology today about how the deal to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb was handled. The apology can in the form of a letter to Cobb residents and the other county commissioners that was made public by the Marietta Daily Journal.

After noting that much of the original negotiations over the Braves move from downtown Atlanta was conducted confidentially due to the requirements of the baseball club, Lee said that decisions were made based on the best interests of the county and the Braves. From the letter:

[W]e made decisions as best we thought given the limitations and constraints we faced. Nonetheless, I am sure there are things I could have handled differently, communicated more clearly, and could have done better to give our citizens deeper confidence in this game changing economic development opportunity for our community.

Throughout this entire process I worked to negotiate the best agreement I could achieve for Cobb. With this and any other economic development opportunities, I am always mindful that the final say on any agreement is the Board of Commissioners. As the Chairman and the only one elected countywide, I believe it is my duty to work vigorously to seek economic development opportunities and jobs for Cobb County and present any good proposal to the Commission when something is real and ready.

In hindsight, I realize it would have been helpful to provide more information at the time of the public announcement about the private phase of the discussions before the deal was made public. For example, I could have provided a written summary to Commissioners and the public regarding the timeline and process of my discussions with the Braves. To the extent I could have done things differently and better communicated our actions, I sincerely apologize.

In addition to a direct apology to Cheek, Lee is also proposing a review of the county’s economic development processes and practices to ensure they are up to date, based on the standards of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

22 comments

  1. Baker says:

    “After noting that much of the original negotiations over the Braves move from downtown Atlanta was conducted confidentially due to the requirements of the baseball club”

    What about the requirements of Georgia law (a la open records laws) and just plain fidelity to the taxpayers?

    • John Konop says:

      As I said about this deal from the start…..It was smart shrewd sharks verse campfire kids singing Barney songs…..BTW do not blame the Braves for getting the best deal…it is called business…..

      • Baker says:

        “BTW do not blame the Braves for getting the best deal…it is called business…..”

        A) What the heck was wrong with Turner Field?
        B) The Braves pressuring the commission to make end-runs (possibly illegal) around open records laws is pretty wrong.
        C) Just because it’s good for someone’s bottom line doesn’t make it right and we should speak up about those situations. Particularly when a corporation with $26.6 billion in assets gets a bunch of free stuff from taxpayers…in order to improve by some marginal percentage the product they already have. If Turner Field had collapsed or something, like in Minnesota, then maybe at least you’d have an argument.

        • John Konop says:

          The failure for Atlanta to improve the area around the stadium is their fault. Not sure why…but it would of been a big factor and win-win for both…..As far as Cobb, they were obviously over their head from the start….I passively read about the deal and saw major flaws on the side of Cobb which I posted at the time. My point is the Braves are a business, your job is to return best ROI to stockholders as an executive. If Cobb was over their head on this deal, than blame the leadership in Cobb not the Braves. If you sell me your house way under value…it your fault for selling…not my fault for making the offer.

          • Baker says:

            I guess part of what I’m getting at is similar to welfare fraud (very similar actually, I’d go so far as to call what the Braves are doing welfare fraud). If I sit on my butt all day and get a welfare check, even though I’m perfectly healthy, we don’t say, well the government was sending him the check so it’s not his fault.

            I am definitely equally upset with Fulton Co commission, the mayor’s office, the Braves, and the Cobb commission for how this whole thing went down.

            Another thing that is related but on a different note: If the Braves were having an impossible time getting the area redeveloped, and dealing with the corruption or ineptitude from the Rec Authority/ county commission, I know that a business has to be careful about talking about politicians publicly but they definitely could have been more vocal about it. If businesses never talk about corrupt/inept/adversarial politicians, then the businesses leave and still don’t talk about them – the politician more or less gets away with it and nothing gets better, i.e. whatever we’re going to try to do with Turner Field next.

            • Harry says:

              Turner Field hopefully will be cleanly sold to a developer, but honestly I can’t imagine anybody wanting to build in that neighborhood.

              • zedsmith says:

                That’s a pretty spectacular failure of imagination given the seats for the city and state governments are a 5 minute car ride away, alongside a university and a major job center.

                Why is it so hard for Braves fans to understand that it was, in large part, their presence that made the stadium area an awful place.

  2. Andrew C. Pope says:

    Dear Cobb County,

    I’m sorry for being so secretive about the stadium negotiations. I am not sorry about committing huge piles of taxpayer dollars to a sports stadium despite the fact that public stadium deals have NEVER worked out to the financial well-being of the government funding the stadium. I am not sorry for getting completely worked over in contract negotiations by the Braves, making this deal even worse for Cobb County. I am not sorry for the people who were able to profit off of this deal because they may or may not have known about the negotiations before the public did. I will try and be more open the next time I let a professional sports team walk all over me to the detriment of you, the wonderful taxpayers.

    Thanx y’all,

    Tim Lee

    P.S. – I’m also sorry about Fredi Gonzalez still being allowed to manage this team. If I could have done anything about it, I would have.

    • heroV says:

      Can you explain how the county got worked over in the negotiations? I am seriously asking. I would like to understand how good or bad this deal is for the country.

      • notsplost says:

        I think the simplest way would be to compare the deal the Falcons made with Fulton county with the one the Braves got.

        For Mr. Blanks’ play ground, Fulton taxpayers are paying 17% of the stadium cost, excluding interest and any capital maintenance (I’m just talking the cost to build the thing.)

        Cobb taxpayers are paying 45%.

        I can already hear someone saying that’s not apples to apples, and maybe Arthur Blank is just a saint relative to the corporate pirates running Liberty media. However I come to the conclusion that Cobb got rolled.

        • John Konop says:

          Mr. Banks is part of the community…which is why I supported the deal….Obviously it was more than ROI to him, and why I defended him at the time. It is not that Liberty media is a bunch of bad guys….It is a nameless corporation….not run by a main owner who is part of our community. Executives at Liberty did their job….If you did not like the deal blame the guys who negotiated it (Cobb leadership). No one put a gun to their head to take the deal, at the time I was not the only one who openly questioned the skills of the Cobb team verse Liberty. It was obviously if anyone wanted to open their eyes this was Georgia football playing a 4 -4 D 3 team. Which is why hopefully, we will get the same type of ownership for the Hawks as Mr. Banks.

        • Andrew C. Pope says:

          Under the MOU, Cobb County is paying 45% of the costs of construction for the stadium, parking, and related infrastructure. They’re on the hook for any infrastructure overruns, which will inevitably happen. Cobb’s 45% number does not include the transportation changes necessary to make the stadium reasonably accessible. Cobb taxpayers are funding 50% of the necessary traffic changes (road widening, highway ramps, busses, the Cheesecake Factory bridge) while the other half is being covered through Cobb’s portion of federal highway funds (translation: money that was going to be spent on other road projects in the county is getting directed to projects near the Braves stadium). The costs of the transportation changes have, to this point, been extremely conservatively estimated. I think PP had a post earlier scoffing at the notion that Cobb could build a pedestrian bridge for $9M.

          The need for transit is going to be very real if the Braves continue to show reluctance to on-site parking. Land owners adjacent to the stadium site don’t seem too keen on giving up tenant/customer parking for 81 Braves games, especially when gamedays will already be a traffic nightmare for people who work near the stadium trying to get out of there and get home. That means Cobb is going to have to find (and potentially) build off-site parking. The further away that parking is, the more you’ll need to invest in moving people from parking lots to the stadium.

          The promise of jobs has been repeatedly disproven by economists. There are short-term construction jobs created, but overall, net job creation is near zero. The new, minimum-wage stadium workers at Sun Trust Park will merely replace the laid-off, minimum-wage stadium workers at Turner Field.

          To top it off, the Braves aren’t legally bound to develop the area into the year-round shopping/restaurant/nightlife attraction they were touting back when the stadium was initially proposed. There have been numerous stadium projects over the years which promise year-round “stadium villages.” They rarely come to fruition.

          When there isn’t a game, the stadium village is just another shopping center (let’s be real, there are already a ton of shopping centers in the area). It’ll be hard to convince tenants that the 81 days of heightened foot traffic will make up for the lack of parking, traffic headaches, higher rent, etc. that come with being immediately adjacent to a major league baseball stadium. Additionally, teams have little incentive to invest, since bars/restaurants near stadiums tend to be a drag on attendance and in-stadium concessions. The stadiums which have thriving neighborhoods/attractions near them were located near already established, high-density areas (Wrigley Field & Wrigleyville in Chicago, Petco Park & the Gaslamp District in San Diego, Target Field & the North Loop/Warehouse District in Minneapolis).

          • John Konop says:

            The sad part, much of this was obvious issues prior to the vote….On the opposite side, it does give the upper hand to renegotiate closer to a win-win deal. The above mess will also hurt the Braves value…..you need to bring in real professionals to try to get this right…..the problem with lopsided deals is they can back fire….which is why win-win is usually better in the long run….Cobb leadership should step aside and let professional renegotiate the deal.

            • notsplost says:

              There is a scenario where that happens (Cobb leadership re-negotiating the deal.)

              It is a long shot but if the GA Supreme Ct WERE to throw out the financing as unconstitutional/illegal, then we’d be back to square 1.

              And as an added bonus, with it being spring of 2015 and maybe less than 2 years from opening day 2017, when they’re presumably homeless without a Cobb stadium, the pressure on the Braves to renegotiate a more equitable deal would also be quite intense.

              Of course, Cobb County leadership would probably freak out, blame the “neanderthals” who challenged the deal and screw it up. Hello, Gwinnett Braves (the major league version.)

              • John Konop says:

                I think lawsuit or not this project has real issues…….Liberty Media will have to step up to the plate…Parking and transportation issues alone could devalue the Braves. I think the county needs to understand the Braves have a lot on the table if this goes wrong…Just my 10 cents in how to negotiate…..

        • Baker says:

          “For Mr. Blanks’ play ground, Fulton taxpayers are paying 17% of the stadium cost, excluding interest and any capital maintenance (I’m just talking the cost to build the thing.)”

          Ostensibly. Part of the rub with the Falcons is that after the bond for the stadium gets paid off, the Falcons keep getting the tax money. In other words, “the cost to build the thing” is kind of a fraction what Blank will get in public money. I refer you at a piece from Common Cause on this funding….

          http://www.commoncause.org/democracy-wire/could-the-billion-dollar-stadium-get-a-billion-dollars-in-public-money.html

          —-“That’s right, according to this law, 39.3% of the hotel/motel tax collected through the year 2050 must go to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority specifically for the Georgia Dome or its successor facility. According to this document, 39.3% of the projected hotel/motel tax collected through 2050 will be $882,564,382.”—-

          ….I want to excerpt the whole thing but I’m trying to keep it limited….

          —-“The public contribution for stadium construction is capped at $200 million, which would come from the hotel-motel tax collected by the city of Atlanta almost exclusively (more than 85 percent) from visitors and tourists, not residents of the City of Atlanta,” said the mayor’s office in a media release preceding the press conference.

          Notice the carefully crafted phrase “for stadium construction is capped at”. So they are telling the truth that “construction cost” will be capped at $200 million, but they are deceiving you by not pointing out what’s in the rest of their summary (see below). Because the current law (which can be changed) requires all of that 39.3% to go to the project, beyond the $200 million for construction, there are five other accounts the hotel/motel money will flow in to — until all $882m is collected for the new stadium.”—-

          Maybe that Gruber guy works in the mayor’s office or is just a consultant for Atlanta sports teams?

  3. Jon Lester says:

    Cobb County Republicans gave themselves away from the start, which is to say, they plainly weren’t motivated by any principled view of the proper role of government, let alone what taxpayers should and should not be burdened with. They could have told the Braves, “build your own damn stadium,” and no apology would have been necessary.

  4. Dave Bearse says:

    “In hindsight, I realize it would have been helpful to provide more information at the time of the public announcement about the private phase of the discussions before the deal was made public. For example, I could have provided a written summary to Commissioners and the public regarding the timeline and process of my discussions with the Braves. To the extent I could have done things differently and better communicated our actions, I sincerely apologize.”

    Translation: I should’ve covered my tracks better.

  5. radix023 says:

    I know the lawsuit is still pending, but I don’t think that is going to pan out. As for the citizens, they returned Lee after he lied, they gave Lee another vote with Bob Weatherford and they voted the SPLOST a 53% pass. It’s over kids, the taxpayers have spoken and they said: We don’t care about the details, GO BRAVES!

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