CGT Seeks Government Transparency at Ga State Capitol

There is a time worn phrase attributed to Charles Dudley Warner to the affect that “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” An example of the veracity of that observation was on display at the Georgia Capitol yesterday. A “strange duck” of an organization gathered to address their concerns around the move of the Atlanta Braves from their Atlanta location to Cobb County. This organization includes, among many others, citizen leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Progressive Democrats of America, the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, and other organizations traditionally on the flip side of the argument including, the Madison Forum, the Cobb Taxpayers Association, and the North Georgia 9-12 group. This unusual alliance shatters the conventional definitions associated to progressive, Democrat, Republican, conservative and independent. They call themselves the Citizens for Governmental Transparency (CGT).

This odd group was birthed in a spontaneous ignition event by a shared concern about the Braves move and an alleged lack of transparency by the Cobb County Commission. The CGT opines its concern is the promotion of sound governance. Their impression is this move, in the manner it is being done, is against the direction of goodness.

The public comment period for the planned move was short, only two weeks were allowed. Concerned citizens want to know more about the quiet negotiation with the Braves front office management to plan the move. The level of secrecy was effective and reportedly applauded for its artful stealth by a neighboring county official. (see video below) Is this the ethos of “good government”?

However achieved, the Commission voted to approve with the concurrence of four of the five Commissioners. Only one Commissioner found the courage to resist, Commissioner Lisa Cupid.

Citizens for Governmental Transparency, the strange duck noted above, visited the Capitol to further explore, with legislators and the citizens of the State, a challenge to the move. Their challenge is a chevaux-de-frise, a many pronged defense with spines of legal, political and contractual challenge forming a deadly barrier to success. And the sharp spears seem not to diminish with time but grow in number, kind, and following.

Challenges include unanswered questions and concerns such as:

  • Can the Board of Commissioners arbitrarily create a new tax district for the specific purpose of supporting the planned public contribution? Many experts believe not. That taxing authority is reserved by the Georgia Constitution to the State Assembly. They have neither considered nor spoken on the issue.
  • Public safety must be considered as new requirements for policing, fire and emergency personnel would attend the stadium venue. This acute need, apparently, exacerbates a department of the county so taxed for resources that a highly qualified, seasoned professional, Jack Forsythe, resigned in protest at the first of the current year. How, exactly, do we get from here to there on this subject?
  • One part of the planned tax revenues, a special purpose closed end tax levy is set to expire in 2017, the same year the stadium is expected to become operational. At minimum, this would require the county Board of Commissioners to vote to extend the tax. Will the Board be differently disposed at that juncture?
  • No zoning variance has been considered or granted by the county for the project. What would happen should the application for same fail? Is this not the definition for “conflict of interest” as clearly barred by the oath of office for any public official in Georgia? More practically, what happens if the Commissioners who approved are no longer on the Board? This is not a stretch as one of those approving the Braves move has announced she will not run for office in 2014 and another approving vote Commissioner is up in this same voting round.
  • What about the approval of another overarching regional board, the Atlanta Regional Commission, who must weigh in to accept the regional impact of the move. How can it be known that this body, with interests spanning nine counties other than Cobb, will agree?

In summing the challenges, and despite the official hubris in this matter, is this really a ‘done deal’ as is so oft repeated in the chambers of power in the county? I am reminded of another  truism from one Mr. Pope; “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

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