Braves send freebies to Cobb commissioners

MARIETTA, GA -- Following the first of a series of controversial votes to approve public funding of a new Atlanta Braves stadium, Cobb County commissioners got goody bags from the Braves. The bags contained Braves apparel, according to disclosure forms filed with the state ethics commission-- valued by Commissioner Lisa Cupid at $300. Commissioner Bob Ott valued his at $245.

"It had like a baseball cap, a shirt, a jacket and then like a braves jersey with my name on the back," said Ott. "It's not uncommon. We receive a lot of things and in general, what I do is, I give 'em away."

Ott says he kept the personalized Braves jersey, but donated the other freebies to a charity.

"I don't want anyone to have the perception that I'm taking gifts," Ott said.

Disclosure forms show Commissioner JoAnn Birrell took Braves apparel valued at $140. Birrell says she also got the hat, jacket, polo shirt and personalized jersey, and donated the hat and jacket to the YWCA. It's unclear why each commissioner valued their gift packages differently.

Commissioner Cupid says she returned two of the items to the Braves. Commissioners Tim Lee and Helen Goreham disclosed no Braves gifts, though a spokeswoman for the Braves says the team sent gift packages to all five commissioners.

"The gift to each commissioner was sent as a holiday present which we thought was appropriate since we will be partners with the County for 30+ years," the Braves said in a prepared statement.

To residents leery of the stadium deal -- which supplements the Braves private investment with hundreds of millions of tax dollars -- it's another reason to dislike it.

"From the beginning this deal has smelled pretty rotten. And this just adds to it," said Rich Pellegrino, of Citizens for Governmental Transparency, which has raised questions about the stadium deal.

It's a sense that culminated this spring, when opponents of the project were disallowed from speaking prior to a key vote approving the project. The Braves goody bags for Cobb County commissioners, critics say, is no surprise.

"You would think since they're under the microscope that they'd at least be a little more careful," said Pellegrino.


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