A week after Braves president John Schuerholz admitted that the move to Cobb County had to be agreed to in secret lest anyone oppose it, the Cobb County Commission approved the use of $392 million in public funds to build the new ballpark.
As with everything else in this move, it went really smoothly, with a unanimous vote being registered on most of the specifics and everyone home in time to catch “The Voice” or whatever. Of course it did, because there was no public debate on the matter and the Commission allowed only 12 citizens to speak, all of whom supported the ballpark deal:
The meeting was dominated by supporters of the stadium who executed a strategy to shutout the voice of critics. They were lined up for the 12 speaking slots by 1:45 p.m., for the meeting that started at 7. They effectively snatched up all the speaking slots for the public comment portion of the meeting. A handful of critics were escorted from the room when it became clear early on they would not be allowed to speak and they approached the front of the room to ask the commission to create more speaking slots.
Commissioners denied the request and all 12 speaker slots were filled by stadium supporters.
Also worth noting: the bond documents which detailed how the $392 million would be funded, were released at 6pm on Friday. That is, after working hours on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Which, history shows, is always the time governmental bodies like to release documents that establish taxpayers are getting a great deal and popular measures are being approved.
Practically speaking, this is academic. The deal was going to pass no matter how many opponents spoke and no matter how long ago the documents were released. That’s because the original deal was struck in secret, allowing the messiness of public officials deliberating and being lobbied to go unnoticed. If a big thing like this is going to be unwound, it’s going to be unwound early, when proponents aren’t able to have ready-made publicity and p.r. and fancy websites with artists’ renderings to deploy. When government officials who would otherwise be under scrutiny can’t simply wave the banner of a local sports team to distract some potential critics, tout their unanimity and cohesion to calm other potential critics and begin the conversation as if everything were already decided, which has the effect of making those who are opposed seem behind the game and engaged in a quixotic endeavor. It’s pretty slick politics, I’ll tell you.
And maybe it doesn’t matter even without that stuff. Maybe it still passes easily if the whole thing were announced in the open early and voted on Greek democracy-style with every single citizen of Cobb County being 100% informed and 100% present in turning out to cast a ballot. Heck, my gut tells me it probably would. I don’t presume that there is some really large silent majority out there who doesn’t want a ballpark in Cobb County.
But it’s a shame that Cobb County and the Braves and those who engineered all of this didn’t have the stomach or the decency to test that hypothesis. That they chose to do something, however nobly-intentioned and inevitable it was, in the same manner in which one would enact something ignobly-intentioned and publicly unpopular. Really, if a government wanted to pass the “Screw Every Last One of You Act of 2014,” they’d proceed in much the same fashion.
Process matters. Even if the outcome is preordained. Maybe especially when it is.