A year after Cobb County leaders voted to pay the Braves an extra $14 million for transportation and infrastructure improvements around the team’s newly-built stadium, there are still secret disputes happening over money with millions of taxpayer dollars on the line.
In documents uncovered by the 11Alive Investigators, Cobb County, which has already contributed nearly $400 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to the stadium project, is fighting back on allegations that the county owes the Braves any more money.
The bitter legal fight is now in private mediation.
According to the documents, the Braves are now asking for $4.6 million, for the below expenses.
- The balance of the transportation improvement fund
- Refund for the building permit fee they say was "improperly charged"
- Refund of half a million dollars for project management costs
- Legal Fee's
The tone of the Braves demand letter is so inflammatory, in its response, the county called it “improper and unprofessional” and went on to say the county would prefer to deal with the dispute over money in “a professional manner.”
Based on the documents, the relationship is a far cry from the rosy picture the two entities have presented to the public since signing a 30-year public-private agreement to build the $600 million dollar ballpark.
Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce declined a sit-down interview with 11Alive to discuss the secret disagreement, but 11Alive caught up with the commissioner at a recent public meeting.
When asked about the negative tone of the on-going dispute, Boyce told 11Alive investigator Faith Abubey: “I don’t even know what you’re talking about. The Braves and I have a great relationship.”
FAITH: I have the documents right here where the county’s own lawyers say the Braves aren’t acting in a professional manner, not acting in good faith.
BOYCE: I’m not going to comment on something that’s under litigation
FAITH: Don’t you think taxpayers deserve to know that this is happening?
BOYCE: And that’s why we have courts of law so we can discuss these things in an open court
Based on the documents 11Alive obtained through an Open Records Act request, the county knowingly entered into “private mediation” with the Braves per the original development agreement signed by both parties.
But Boyce insists, “It’s not private. Mediation is always open to both sides […] It’s a public/private partnership.”
However, based on the documents between the county and the Braves layers, all disputes must be held behind closed doors and if they can’t reach a decision, the issue will then go before a judge.
FAITH: But you decided, agreed, to enter into “private mediation” which means taxpayers won’t find out until the deal is done.
BOYCE: I guess you can call it anyway you want to. The bottom line is we have an agreement that was signed, that is a public document that clearly states, in the agreement that if we have a disagreement on something and we can’t come to a common understanding then we agree to take it to a mediator.
The disagreement started over the stadium development fee, referenced several times in the documents at SDF. In a May 21st letter, the county notified the Braves they have an overdue SDF bill of $I.4 million for water and sewer development on the stadium project.
The Braves responded, denying the money is owed, let alone overdue.
The team’s attorneys then went on to demand a payment of $4.6 million from the county in refunds and fees.
“They seemed so aghast. ‘How dare you accuse us of doing something like this?” JC Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University and a local resident said after reading the documents 11Alive shared with him.
“One of the things that irritates me as a taxpayer is that the Braves got a $300 million subsidy and they are arguing over very small amounts relative to what they got. Can they not at least be gracious enough to admit we got a pretty nice deal here? We've got a pretty nice stadium.”
Some of Cobb County's most outspoken taxpayers on the stadium deal also weighed in after seeing the documents 11Alive obtained.
“That right away, is a red flag. Why are we not aware of this?,” Richard Pellegrino, who along with Ben Williams lead the politically diverse coalition called Citizens for Governmental Transparency, said.
PELLEGRINO: I read the documents, I got angrier and angrier
FAITH: So, you guys walked away, the last time this was public, thinking all had been resolved
WILLIAMS: That was my point of view with respect to our financial obligation as "taxpayers"
Larry Savage, a former candidate for commission chair who recently brought an ethics complaint against commissioners involved in the deal, characterized the tone of the disagreements as “almost like a cat fight.”
“You got a smiley face over here and everybody is kumbaya and on the other side, knives are being sharpened,” he added.
Despite the fight, the Braves and the county say all is well between the two parties. The county says the relationship is amicable and partners sometimes fight. The Braves agree, saying in a statement to 11Alive that the county is still a great partner.
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