DeKalb Commissioner, Citizens Blast DeKalb CEO for Arthur Blank Soccer Field Deal
Last Tuesday, August 04, 2015, the DeKalb County Commission voted 4-3 in favor of the deal.
Atlanta United FC plans to build a 30 million dollar soccer complex on county land near DeKalb County Jail, near Memorial Drive and I-285.
Under the deal, the club is exempt from paying County taxes for thirty years. When that term ends, the County will get back the land and will be stuck with the building.
The deal was conditioned care of McKenna Long & Aldridge, who serves as the lobbyist firm for DeKalb County, who also, according to APN sources, represented Arthur Blank in the negotiation.
“Ultimately, it’s against legal protocol, to represent someone else if there’s a relationship, it’s called a conflict of interest, but the client can waive that conflict,” Commissioner Kathie Gannon (District 6) told APN.
Voting against the proposal were Commissioners Nancy Jester (District 1), Jeff Rader (District 2), and Kathie Gannon (District 6).
Voting in favor were Commissioners Larry Johnson (District 3), Sharon Barnes Sutton (District 4), Mereda Davis Johnson (District 5), and Stan Watson (District 7). The vote was divided along racial lines.
Newly-elected Mereda Johnson was instrumental in the vote’s outcome.
“One of the things that upset me is the total lack of communication with the rest of the world,” Gannon said.
“Lee May has immature management practices, communicating only to the Development Authority and the four votes, he already has then cut the deal. This is not how you do this, going in the back room and cutting a deal… the community is out against him… people are sick of it,” Gannon said.
“They want openness, want to be involved. They are the taxpayers. Go figure. How do we fix it?” Gannon said.
Gannon and Commissioner Rader held a press conference this week, expressing their frustrations.
“What we asked for in our press conference is: One, that ignoring the public and blocking them out has got to stop; and two, monthly accounting timeline of all expenditures involved in this project. What are they giving away? We all deserve to hear that,” Gannon said.
“Turn it around, find another funding source… working with Blank for the all hidden costs. There are 19 county facilities to be displaced… there is no plan for that or who will pay. We don’t even know the appraised value of the site! Or the environmental safety of that site. Somebody has to pay for that,” Gannon said.
When APN asked if there was a feasibility study completed, Gannon laughed and said of course not.
“There was no feasibility study, nothing is planned out. Someone needs to take charge… what and how it’s being done. How we can turn this into making some money for the County?” Gannon said.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, crusader against government corruption, who brought investigations to the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, is providing a report of DeKalb County’s inner workings with partner Richard Hyde.
“The DeKalb County government is rotten to the core,” Bowers and Hyde wrote. “The misconduct starts at the top and has infected nearly every department we have looked at.”
“Right now I cannot make any comments related to DeKalb County until we finish our final report,” Bowers told Atlanta Progressive News.
May, who is the one who called for the investigation, is himself being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over questions about whether he received preferential treatment during a series of home repairs five years ago.
Attempts to reach the Arthur Blank Foundation’s representative for Atlanta’s Major League Soccer Team, Pat Johnson, were not returned.
Burke Brennan, May’s Chief Communications Officer, did not return a voicemail seeking comment.
May has defended his position on the 12 million dollars and counting incentive package for the soccer field in a press conference on August 12, 2015.
May apologized for keeping residents out of the loop. “That was a mistake. I’ll take full credit for it… but the deal is done,” he said, according to WABE radio.
“The thing that bothers me most, why the rush, why ram this through, giving us so little time? What were the estimates? No public comment? This is not the way to do governance,” Marjorie Hall Snook, Board Member of DeKalb STRONG, told APN.
“These stadiums often are a bad deal for taxpayers. They should be a lot cheaper… these deals have a history, a lot promised… great for economy, but don’t really deliver… they are giveaways of tax dollars that benefit private organizations,” Snook said.
“Turner Field hasn’t seen a comeback. It’s an obstacle for Grant Park. We don’t want to fall prey to what happened [with Turner Field]. Is this really a good deal for us?” Snook said.
“Expediency over process, and money over people. What we think does not matter to certain commissioners. The people [sic] voices are silenced. No time for debate or discussion, take the deal, no other offer. This is what economic development looks like on steroids,” Ed Williams, Chair for Concerned Citizens for Effective Government and Citizens Against Cityhood in DeKalb, wrote in a press release.
“ICEO Lee May acting like Donald Trump with Taxpayers money. Arthur Blank is acting like the host on Lets Make A Deal [sic]. The DeKalb County Commissioners 4 Blind Mice supports the deal,” he wrote.
“Most recently, you and four county commissioners succeeded in pushing through a proposal to build a soccer practice facility in central DeKalb. The proposal calls for a significant investment of at least $12 million to be taken from the general fund of the county. Additionally, several buildings currently housing existing county departments are to be torn down,” DeKalb STRONG said in a statement addressed to May.
“The cost of replacing those buildings has not been evaluated and is not part of the $12 million referenced in the proposal. Perhaps the proposal will be a net gain for the county, perhaps not. However, the point is that there was no time allowed for review, for performing a return on investment analysis, for analyzing provisions of the MOU that might be better defined or altered, or for feedback from the citizens of DeKalb,” DeKalb STRONG wrote.
“Indeed, a special meeting of county commissioners was scheduled just one scant week following the publication/announcement of the MOU. At that meeting requests for public comment were denied and the vote called for,” DeKalb STRONG said.
“There are a lot of needs in the county that $12 million + dollars could go a long way toward addressing. It would have been advisable to consider alternate use, or a more productive way of spending such a large amount of taxpayer funds. This smacks of the sort of questionable behavior you’ve pledged to eliminate. By allowing the commission to silence the citizens of DeKalb prior to the vote you’ve reinforced the disenfranchisement that a majority of your constituency was hoping to put in the past. By not leaving sufficient time for careful analysis, you’ve violated the most fundamental basics of responsible government,” DeKalb STRONG wrote.