Monday, August 26, 2013

Politifact reverses 'false' ruling about Reed's stadium deal claims

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 8:44 AM

Politifact Georgia, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's website tasked with keeping public officials honest through its fact-checking analysis and "truth-o-meter," has flip-flopped with its recent column challenging a statement made by Mayor Kasim Reed over the Atlanta Falcons stadium land talks.

The political website last week called out Reed for making a "false" claim about how state officials can only pay a certain amount of money above a property's appraised value. During his recent interview with Sports Radio 680 The Fan's "The Front Row," Reed said the following about the state's ongoing conversations with Mount Vernon Baptist Church:

"The state has some limitations on what they can pay above the appraised price. ... We're not going to be able to pay Mount Vernon $19.5 million because of the constraints that the state has in what they can pay."


"State law says that once the state appraises a piece of property, they can only pay a certain amount above appraisal."

The negotiations between church and state officials have continued as of late in hopes that the Atlanta Falcons can build a shiny new $1 billion stadium between the Georgia Dome and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. At the moment, Reed has an agreement in place with Friendship Baptist Church for $19.5 million, which remains contingent upon the congregation's approval and the state's deal with Mount Vernon Baptist Church. One of the largest hurdles left now is to bridge the gap between the amount the church wants for the land and what the state can offer.

Given that context, Politifact doled out the "false" rating after its "research found no laws establishing this limit." They argued that Reed's comments were merely an interpretation of the Georgia Constitution, and not the cold, hard truth.

But the mayor's office didn't take kindly to those accusations. Reed lashed out that the article was "misleading" and "wrong once again." Spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs sent out a statement that attacked the "incorrect" column, one filled with "flawed" logic, and even had Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens chime in to gently remind readers about the law of the land.

"State lawmakers view the clause as a vital safeguard of the state's taxpayers; it ensures that tax dollars won't be just given away based on favoritism or political connections; instead, tax dollars can only be spent when the state gets full value for those dollars," Attorney General Sam Olens said. "Mayor Reed's comment was correct, and accurately reflects the legal limitations under which the State is acting in this matter."

Amid Reed's pressure and remarks from Olens' office, which calls the law a "black and white" issue, Politifact this morning reversed its opinion to a "true" rating.

"PolitiFact originally rated Reed's claim False," the column says. "But state Attorney General Sam Olens disagreed, saying the mayor was correct. Reed, too, asked us to rethink our rating. PolitiFact decided to do more digging and reconsider its original ruling, drawing in more expertise."

What's interesting isn't so much who's right and who's wrong. But rather it's fascinating to observe how much Politifact, self-appointed harbingers of truth, can stir up a reaction with the mayor. If you recall, Reed was quite furious last December when the website called him a "full flop" after he shifted his stance toward same-sex marriage. He responded then with a lengthy press release and an incessant barrage of tweets from his supporters.

This time around, Reed convinced the website to change its mind. And he seems to be pleased at the moment:

With this kerfuffle settled, Reed will officially qualify - rather ceremoniously since he's facing no strong challengers as of now - as a mayoral candidate in his quest for re-election. He'll make his announcement at 10 a.m. on the Mitchell Street side of City Hall.

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