Braves’ move was lesson in how not to govern
by Roger Hines
December 07, 2013 10:50 PM | 505 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I know. It’s a done deal. For now, that is. But billionaire sports team owners enjoy competitive sports, and they are masters at playing taxpayers. Who thinks that the Braves owners won’t be back to negotiate different, better terms within a few years?

The euphoria was undeniable and understandable. It certainly got to me. Visions of sugar plums! Visitors to our county! Visitors bearing dollars, of course! An opportunity to keep Cobb County an exciting, vibrant place!

Frankly, the euphoria is still working on me, messing with my mind and my love for sports, crowds, and stadiums. Which is exactly what our county commissioners and business leaders desired and worked hard and fast to drum up. But euphoria should always be examined and considered. Euphoria doesn’t just dazzle; it blinds. Sometimes it should be resisted.

No, the euphoria wasn’t examined. There was no time to examine it. Taxpayers were not allowed to seriously consider the matter and then let their commissioners know what they thought about it.

But no problem. Our commissioners would decide for us. We were supposed to get excited about having a professional baseball team in our backyard and approve of it with no questions. Oh, a few makeshift town halls were held, but within an extremely short time frame.

Apart from the fact that we saw exactly how government should not govern, the maneuvering was brilliant: one elected official makes a deal with powerful, private business interests; he informs the public of the deal; he demands and gets a quick, successful Commission vote; community business leaders and Braves owners almost die from ecstasy; and taxpayers — particularly those who don’t care a thing about baseball, but of course are supposed to — stand dazed, not knowing what hit them.

At the town halls there were the obligatory signs, posters, t-shirts, rah-rahs and boos, all of which illustrate the juvenile way in which public policy is hammered out these days.

I’d like very much for the Braves to come to Cobb County, and I already want to go see the new stadium, the shops, the restaurants, and all the other thrilly things, not to mention the possible “Riverwalk” that yet another developer wants to build near the stadium. But all of that is still the euphoria. I don’t like making decisions while under the influence of euphoria. Governments shouldn’t either.

Yes, the county government voted on and approved a deal long before the euphoria had settled. I read recently in a fancy, financial magazine that along the Charlotte-to-Phoenix axis, there is a tendency to tear down still-usable structures at the drop of a hat. Often those structures have been paid for by taxpayers and are hardly two decades old. No wonder some of the good folks of the Tea Party and some of my Libertarian friends are getting fed up with this.

For instance, it’s a shame to tear down the Braves’ Turner Field which was built only 17 years ago. (Who was it that pointed out that Turner Field is younger than Miley Cyrus?) What a waste! What a message to our children! But that’s the way of the Sun Belt. We’ve got to have something newer, bigger, and more dazzling, even if we haven’t paid off the structure to which we’re giving the ball and chain.

Yes, I do compare our Commission’s action to the absolutely partisan passage of the Affordable Care Act. Frantic were the faces and the voices of our political and business leaders. They said we should not delay. And whom does that sound like? Yes, Nancy Pelosi, who said we should pass the ACA so that we could see what’s in it.

There’s a philosophical point to be made about the matter as well. Tea Partiers and Libertarians were not off base to question the deal. It’s reasonable to perk up and ask questions whenever elected officials hobnob with billionaires and then announce that taxpayers are going to give the billionaires and their multi-million dollar athletes millions of tax dollars.

It’s also not outrageous to argue, as Rep. Charles Gregory did so eloquently, that if a venture can’t stand on its own in the free market, taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. Just let’em vote.

I say much of this is all about guy stuff, namely stadium envy. You know how we Southern guys are, guys from Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and Houston. If you build a big stadium, we’ll build one bigger.

But it’s not just a Southern guy thing. The San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings are set to go calling on their city and state taxpayers for stadiums to be built in 2016. I believe they’re complaining that their athletes need more money.

Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school English teacher.
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