In this Nov. 12, 2013, file photo, a statue of Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron stands outside Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves. / David Goldman, AP
MARIETTA, Ga. - The Atlanta Braves' move from downtown Atlanta to a yet-to-be built stadium 12 miles away in suburban Cobb County seems to be a settled issue.
But a group of Cobb residents at a town hall meeting Tuesday night pressed ahead with their demand for more transparency and public input in how â?? or even whether â?? Cobb spends more than $300 million in public money it has committed to the new stadium.
"We don't feel that it's a done deal," said Richard Pellegrino, a member of the Citizens for Governmental Transparency, a strange-bedfellows coalition of 12 groups ranging from the Tea Party to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "I think the Braves coming here is a done deal. What's not a done deal is the $300 million investment.
"There are a lot of hurdles still," he said. "There are legal hurdles, ethical hurdles. What we want is transparency, accountability and fiduciary responsibility from our elected officials."
He and others in the coalition say that the five-member Cobb County Commission approved the Braves' move and public investment in the new stadium without adequate public comment and objective feasibility studies. They insist that not all members of their coalition oppose the Braves' move, slated for 2017, but say they all want the process made more transparent - and slowed down.
The Braves and Cobb County stunned metro Atlanta Nov. 11 when they announced the team was leaving Turner Field, where it has played since 1996, for a new $672 million stadium in Cobb near the Interstate 75/285 interchange. The county commission approved the deal two weeks and one day later.
"The Cobb County Commissioners take over a year to make a decision about backyard chickens," Susan McCoy said, grilling the only county commissioner in attendance, Bob Ott, over why the board moved so quickly to approve the county's investment in the stadium.
Ott, whose district includes the Smyrna-Vinings area where the new stadium is headed, said he didn't learn about the proposed Braves move until Nov. 4; by then, he said, Commission Chairman Tim Lee already had lined up the three votes needed to approve the deal. "From day one of the Braves being announced, the chairman had three votes," he said. "It was going to pass."
Ott said he extracted certain concessions and then voted Nov. 26 with the 4-1 majority in approving the project.
A Cobb County spokesman said the stadium deal is moving ahead and that there have been opportunities for public comment.
"The county commissioners have approved and signed a Memorandum of Understanding, and are in the process of completing longer-term agreements," said spokesman Robert Quigley. "The board has voted and has taken action to authorize the chairman to move forward. There have been numerous opportunities and will continue to be opportunities for the public to interact with the commissioners on this project," he said.
Sharon Hill, a member of Citizens for Governmental Transparency, said Tuesday night's meeting at Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was the second in an ongoing series of town halls on the new stadium. "We recognize that we can't stop it," she said. "We are pushing to be a part of whatever goes on."
It's unclear what impact the tiny, David faction of good government citizens can actually have against the Goliath of government and big business pushing the stadium and an adjoining mixed-use development project. There were only 56 people at Tuesday night's meeting â?? in a room that that had been set up for about 135 â?? and six of them were local political candidates trolling for votes.
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