Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Opinion: Process to approve stadium deal was rushed, not transparent

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM

Arthur Blank and Mayor Kasim Reed announce the Falcons, city, and state reach a deal on new stadium
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Arthur Blank and Mayor Kasim Reed announce the Falcons, city, and state reach a deal on new stadium
On Monday night, the Atlanta City Council approved a plan to provide at least $200 million from the city's hotel and motel tax revenues to help fund a new Atlanta Falcons football stadium. William Perry of Common Cause of Georgia, a government watchdog group, says the vote was rushed - and that talk of a "big public conversation" about the deal never came to fruition.

As the head of a nonprofit government watchdog group, I hear comments about people's cynicism toward elected officials all the time. The comments they make the most: "They don't care about what we think", "they are all crooked", "we can't trust them" and "we should vote them all out."

No doubt, trust in government is at an all-time low. I try to convince people all the time to find a reason to keep believing, but it is truly like pushing a boulder up a hill.

Look no further than Monday evening's approval of the new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons by the Atlanta City Council as a prime example of why people feel this way.

No matter how you feel about public financing of the new stadium, the process that led to its approval has to make even the biggest citizen supporters of the project uncomfortable.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying Atlanta would have "a big public conversation." We would get an information blitz, he said. But the mayor held not one conversation with the public.

In the Feb. 8 article, we read: "You're going to get more transparency," Reed said. "We're going to give the public every piece of data that we can possibly give them. Everything is going to be known. Questions are going to be answered in public and on television."

Granted, there were a few work sessions held by Atlanta City Councilwoman (and transparency champion) Felicia Moore, and a lot was discussed. But much was speculation, as no plan existed for the public, or the Council, to review.

Then, late last Wednesday, the Mayor's office delivered a 200-page proposal to the City Council. Despite the fact that the Council had scheduled a work session to discuss the proposal late this week, the Mayor pressured members of the Council to shove the plan through just three short business days later.

The decision to vote on the issue was so hastily made that it was not even on the Council's agenda. Special consideration had to be given, and a political trick was pulled so the plan would not have to go through the normal committee process, in which the public would receive notice and have the chance to comment.

Instead, no public notice was given that a vote would be taken. So much for "more transparency." And the information blitz was not even a one-man rush. In fact, it was more of an offensive attack, like a running back bowling over defenders. The public was plowed over and was not given the chance to get the information needed to provide us with the ability to trust this decision.

But let's not place all the blame on the mayor. The Council approved the plan 11-4, leaving the public with more unanswered questions than facts that were uncovered. Constituents of Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean had to have been left with a healthy dose of cynicism. She proclaimed just last Thursday night to a group in Buckhead that she would not vote "yes" because, according to Buckhead View, there were "a number of issues she felt had not been fully vetted."

She voted "yes" on Monday, along with Councilmembers Carla Smith, Ivory Young, Cleta Winslow, Natalyn Archibong, C.T. Martin, Keisha Bottoms, Joyce Sheperd, Michael Julian Bond, Aaron Watson and Lamar Willis. Shame on them! Not so much for voting for it, but for supporting the denial of the public's information blitz. We deserved better.

Those deserving praise are Councilmembers Kwanza Hall, Alex Wan, Howard Shook and Felicia Moore. They stood strong for their constituents' right to an open and honest process, and did so bravely in defying a mayor who keeps a list, and checks it more than twice.

Trust in Atlanta government likely took another huge dip Monday night, and the boulder I push got a whole lot heavier.

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