When I was out of town a week ago, the Braves and Cobb county made a “surprise” announcement that almost broke the internet. The news of the Atlanta Braves moving to the Cumberland Mall area of Cobb County was everywhere, and I.mean.every.where. Within a day the news, reviews, hostility, “heat” map, timelines and commentary were inescapable. As the week progressed details of the deal were released to the public, here, here and here.
I don’t have a dog in this fight, it’s just fascinating to watch the personal and political upheaval going on over this move, and watch I have. Tonight I attended ringside one of the three Town Halls on the subject. They were hastily scheduled all for the same evening, in three locations at roughly the same time. Public comment is for sissies apparently, before the Town Halls were scheduled, Commission Chair Lee was, “we’re not asking for comments we’re telling you the deal, all questions or concerns from you -John/Jane Q public are piffle and nonsense.”
Well alrighty then.
At 4:00 this afternoon I went up to the Mountainview Public Library to attend my Commissioner Birrell’s event. Approaching the parking lot I knew this was going to be a good time. Three TV trucks, a swarm of Sheriff and Police and the parking lot was already packed. A press conference was being held by both for and against groups. The “For” were clearly better organized. I say this because although the public was told the meeting began at 4:30, the “all in for the Cobb Braves” group arrived at 3:00 staked out almost all the 109 seats, passed out T-shirts and rally signs. By the time I arrived at 4:05 all the seats were taken and they’d closed the door to the room. A large crowd of VERY angry citizens were left standing in the hallway, Debbie Dooley was holding court in said crowd and rumors were flying about recalls, it’s all the Chamber of Commerce’s fault and my favorite; this was “crammed down our throats”. I do so love it when RWNJ use their slogans against their own. The Fire Marshall was called in, and we were told that no more folks would allowed to go in, the hallway was so packed it was unsafe, and it was best for us to leave. Uh yeah right, I wasn’t leaving and neither were the 50 folks around me. People continued to arrive, and I suppose they were told it was full, most left.
The cops sensed that many of us were not going to go quietly into that good night, but if we formed single lines along the walls, as people left we’d be let in. Side note: there is just something profoundly creepy when heavily armed men tell me to stand up against the wall. It didn’t take too long before a few “against” folks left the room in disgust telling us all that it was a waste of our time waiting to be heard in “that room“, they’d made up their minds and it was full of supporters! However, once supporter folks got their t-shirts and sat through what I imagine was a dry presentation on the numbers they started filing out. Little by little the “wallflowers” were let in. By the time I got in, the dynamics had changed. Not so much cheering at every utterance of Chair Lee’s and the questions were on the order of, you are making a lot of promises can you deliver? The ”Billon Dollar Investment” and “Home Run for Cobb” slogan/talking points rolled off Chair Lee’s tongue like he’d be up all night practicing them.
Specifically here are the questions I heard, with my highly skewed answers. Good grief, you don’t think I’m a journalist do you? Eyeroll.
Numerous questions about parking; nice round number answers: 2,000 under, 4,000 near, leasing spots from local business, bus route 10 & 12 on Cobb County Transit, pedestrian connectivity ( whatever that means, since duh we all moved to Cobb so we didn’t ever have to walk) widening the Virginia and Lester Maddox bridge (yeah they didn’t call it that on the literature) more paving contracts and in the end… three years to figure it out. No light rail and clearly no Marta trains. Handout provided referencing Cobb DOT plans but interestingly not listed anywhere on CobbDot.org. this evening. I’ll save it as a souvenir, I’m sure it will be worth something in 2017.
Question about who is building it, will local contractors get a piece of this? Chair Lee made it very clear he expects to get the sod contract. Added that “not everyone can build a stadium”. The man asking the question identified himself as a contractor, so Chair Lee’s answer was pretty snarky. Commissioner Birrell indicated that the RFP is supposed to include a hefty requirement for local businesses, that will earn them extra “points” in their proposal. It goes without saying they don’t want reminders of the jail fiasco in the contracting process.
Question about Financing and taxes… bless their hearts they are sticking with the it’s not a tax it’s a temporary higher millage rate and that’s ok. Except when it’s not with some folks, cue Debbie Dooley. Chair Lee keeps saying over and over Public/Private, Public/Private like Rainman whenever anyone asks how its going to be funded.
Question about the timing; would they consider a delay for more public comment. Loud Clapping! The answer from Chair Lee was a emphatic ”NO, they are voting tomorrow and the RFP is going out on Wednesday.” Questioner then compared it to Obamacare, and Chairman Lee to Obama.. oh yeah that got the boos from everyone but me I just giggled. However Chair Lee did kind of shocked me with his tone, as the meeting wore on he became increasingly cocky and snide in his answers. As soon as it wasn’t a cheering, fawning and supportive crowd he really showed an unattractive side. Commissioner Birrell attempted to be respectful of the folks not salivating over this deal but Chair Lee was very dismissive of anything that challenged his “Home Run”. I felt kind of sorry for her, this meeting was clearly a cluster*ck. Word will get out that the room was too small, unfair advantage was taken by the Braves supporters and the timing was dreadful and oh yeah Chair Lee wasn’t helping.
I didn’t get a chance to ask my question, which is; when did the Cobb County Commissioners become experts on Major League Stadium financing and effective transportation management? This can’t of happened in the last few weeks.
I look forward to hearing how things went at Chairman Lee’s “Town Hall” at the Commission offices and Commissioner Cupids in S Cobb.
I’m not sure who is keeping up with all the promises to the community or who’s going to track them as time wears on. Maybe the Delay the Vote Coalition will. I’m sure somewhere in the basement of Atlanta City Hall is a mouldering copy of all the promises that were made 20 years ago to Fulton’s residents.