Connect Cobb: the blurred line between public and private

By Craig Kootsillas

As sources of capital dry up, developers have turned to Private / Public Partnerships (PPP) touting them as innovative solutions to funding challenges as critics eye them with deep suspicions over the blurring of the line between public and private.

This series of articles is the result of an examiner.com investigation concluded today of a large-scale transit plan now branded as “Connect Cobb“. The public record was examined and this investigation’s findings reviewed by officials at the county, region and federal level. Cobb County is a northern suburb of Atlanta that generally is urban to the south and generally suburban to the north.

A consortium of owners of commercial property centered around the largest malls in Cobb County (GA) lie poised to implement a transit plan they created in secret over a decade ago as all levels of government overlook years of concealment, deceit, conflicts of interest and potential fraud clearly documented in the public record.

The plan, for which development first began in 1999, has come to be branded as “Connect Cobb” and the effort involved a number of quasi-governmental entities, also described as “public/private partnerships” (PPP).

Georgia law provides for the creation of “community improvement districts” (CID) when the majority of owners of commercial property within an arbitrary and contiguous area agree to the formation. They then elect officers and a board of directors from within their membership.

A CID functions similar to an investment club with the government operating as a no-cost money handler. CIDs agree to invest an amount proportional to the the value of the property they own within the boundary of the CID.

This is considered to be a “millage rate” and the investment is collected by the government as a tax. After being pooled by the government, the entire amount is made available to the CID.

When deciding on all matters, CIDs vote in a manner in which the value of each member’s vote is determined by the value of the property owned within the CID.

This process is derided by critics as “the golden rule” wherein “he with the most gold rules” and point to the fact that the largest property owners are conglomerates headquartered well outside the CID and county.

Georgia law provides CIDs the ability to to use pooled revenue as local matching funds to seek grants from federal, state and local governments. With this dynamic, CIDs regularly “leverage” their pooled funds paying only 10 percent of the total cost of large transportation projects with the balance funded by various governments.

This savings is referred to as a “rate of leverage”; in this example a “10 to one leverage rate” would be touted.

Georgia law also provides for the creation of “development authorities”, a PPP to which elected officials appoint board members who then elect officers and establish rules. Development Authorities are able to package “inducements” to individuals and firms that include abatement of school and property taxes, the issuance of tax free bonds and lump sum payments.

Cobb County elected officials view development authorities as independent entities and rely on courts and mandated federal hearings to provide oversight.

While some development authorities will work closely with local government given authorities’ ability to alter and create development patterns, the Development Authority of Cobb County does not. This has led to controversy within Cobb by members of the public and authority board members centered on the charge that the DACC has granted a disproportionate share of inducements to owners of property within the Cumberland CID causing development to focus there.

Examination of the DACC’s record and Connect Cobb’s analysis of job opportunities within Cobb substantiates this claim.

Two local firms worked alongside Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation to develop the plan beginning in 1999 and have since merged.. Don Hix, one time CEO of one of the local firms (then associated with Mayes, Sudderth and Etheridge), now is employed by the other firm, Croy Engineering.

Since before development of the plan and until recently, Hix served as chairman of the Development Authority of Cobb County (DACC) and not the only project insider to serve on the DACC.

Upon completion, the Bechtel plan was delivered to the chairmen of the two CIDs, at the time Kessel Stelling, now Synovus Chairman/CEO, served as the chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, the Cumberland CID and was a member of the DACC board.

Like Croy, Stelling would return to Cobb during the 2008 update of Cobb’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) by reassuming the chairmanship of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.

During the development of the project transportation planning, management and most other roles of Cobb government regarding transportation were being “privatized”. In a recent interview during his bid to reclaim the chairmanship of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, an office he held during the development of the transit plan, Bill Byrne pointed out the fact that the privatization plan was developed with guidance from Croy.

Since then, Croy has remained one of Cobb’s most influential consultants.

After overseeing the privatization of transportation in Cobb as Cobb’s Director of Transportation, Croy went on to head the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) and the creation of the Greater Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) under Cobb native and former governor Roy Barnes. GRTA was a campaign imperative of Barnes. Once elected, Barnes appointed Croy to begin what was labelled as Barnes top issue: the development of transit corridors within the Atlanta metro region.

While heading SRTA, Croy became the center of controversy when it was revealed that toll revenue was being redirected from tollway operations, including $10 million to purchase land for a development located near the terminus of Connect Cobb.

Then, in 2008, Croy returned to Cobb to oversee development of Cobb’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP), the document in which local governments choose targets for state and federal funding. He went on to serve as Cobb’s liaison to the Northwest Corridor Study (NWCS), a study considered to be a precursor to Connect Cobb during which a variant of the 1999 plan was considered then rejected as too expensive and too slow.

Croy continues to be deeply involved having been chosen to oversee multiple efforts totaling many millions over the years required to implement Connect Cobb.

The original stakeholder committee formed to oversee development of the plan was co-chaired by Tad Leithead, who spearheaded the development of Cumberland while at Cousins Properties, and Bob Voyles, founder of the Seven Oaks development firm, both long-standing members of and developers focused on the Cumberland CID.

Leithead would succeed Stelling as chairman of the Cumberland CID, a title he holds till today. Leithead also served as chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Atlanta’s federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, the local body charged with oversight and allocation of federal funds.

After acceptance of the plan by the Cumberland and Town Center CIDs, the plan received no public hearing and was not brought forward for consideration or adoption by Cobb’s Board of Commissioners.

In spite of having been adopted into Cobb’s 2008 Comprehensive Transportation Plan in a manner that has sparked controversy, the public would remain unaware of the plan until revealed by CDOT at a work session of Cobb Commissioners May 4, 2010.

Next up: The strategy

Source: http://www.examiner.com/article/connect-cobb-the-blurred-line-between-public-and-private

Regionalism: The Next Grand Experiment in Social Engineering

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As we’ve been pointing out over the last few years, there’s more to this regionalism thing that just cooperation between metro counties. There are definite plans for wrestling control away from duly elected local governments and replacing it with regional governance that’s unelected and unaccountable to the people. Even worse, control is being shifted to the federal level which is absolutely tone deaf to “We The People”.

Maybe for some it has to smack you right in the head, or the pocketbook. Or, maybe that’s the way you want it. Now that Cobb County has hired Comm360 to the tune of $186,000+ to lobby state and federal agencies for legislation and grants, I’m sure they’ll be happy to oblige these new federal rules. There are always strings attached to federal grant money. It’s not too late to reject federal money and intrusion into local control and home rule.

The following article by Stanley Kurtz from National Review highlights additional concerns with regionalism.

Attention America’s Suburbs: You Have Just Been Annexed

by Stanley Kurtz July 20, 2015 10:01 AM

It’s difficult to say what’s more striking about President Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation: its breathtaking radicalism, the refusal of the press to cover it, or its potential political ramifications. The danger AFFH poses to Democrats explains why the press barely mentions it. This lack of curiosity, in turn, explains why the revolutionary nature of the rule has not been properly understood. Ultimately, the regulation amounts to back-door annexation, a way of turning America’s suburbs into tributaries of nearby cities.

This has been Obama’s purpose from the start. In Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, I explain how a young Barack Obama turned against the suburbs and threw in his lot with a group of Alinsky-style community organizers who blamed suburban tax-flight for urban decay. Their bible was Cities Without Suburbs, by former Albuquerque mayor David Rusk. Rusk, who works closely with Obama’s Alinskyite mentors and now advises the Obama administration, initially called on cities to annex their surrounding suburbs. When it became clear that outright annexation was a political non-starter, Rusk and his followers settled on a series of measures designed to achieve de facto annexation over time.

The plan has three elements: 1) Inhibit suburban growth, and when possible encourage suburban re-migration to cities. This can be achieved, for example, through regional growth boundaries (as in Portland), or by relative neglect of highway-building and repair in favor of public transportation. 2) Force the urban poor into the suburbs through the imposition of low-income housing quotas. 3) Institute “regional tax-base sharing,” where a state forces upper-middle-class suburbs to transfer tax revenue to nearby cities and less-well-off inner-ring suburbs (as in Minneapolis/St. Paul).

If you press suburbanites into cities, transfer urbanites to the suburbs, and redistribute suburban tax money to cities, you have effectively abolished the suburbs. For all practical purposes, the suburbs would then be co-opted into a single metropolitan region. Advocates of these policy prescriptions call themselves “regionalists.”

AFFH goes a long way toward achieving the regionalist program of Obama and his organizing mentors. In significant measure, the rule amounts to a de facto regional annexation of America’s suburbs. To see why, let’s have a look at the rule.

AFFH obligates any local jurisdiction that receives HUD funding to conduct a detailed analysis of its housing occupancy by race, ethnicity, national origin, English proficiency, and class (among other categories). Grantees must identify factors (such as zoning laws, public-housing admissions criteria, and “lack of regional collaboration”) that account for any imbalance in living patterns. Localities must also list “community assets” (such as quality schools, transportation hubs, parks, and jobs) and explain any disparities in access to such assets by race, ethnicity, national origin, English proficiency, class, and more. Localities must then develop a plan to remedy these imbalances, subject to approval by HUD.

By itself, this amounts to an extraordinary takeover of America’s cities and towns by the federal government. There is more, however.

AFFH obligates grantees to conduct all of these analyses at both the local and regional levels. In other words, it’s not enough for, say, Philadelphia’s “Mainline” Montgomery County suburbs to analyze their own populations by race, ethnicity, and class to determine whether there are any imbalances in where groups live, or in access to schools, parks, transportation, and jobs. Those suburbs are also obligated to compare their own housing situations to the Greater Philadelphia region as a whole.

So if some Montgomery County’s suburbs are predominantly upper-middle-class, white, and zoned for single-family housing, while the Philadelphia region as a whole is dotted with concentrations of less-well-off African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians, those suburbs could be obligated to nullify their zoning ordinances and build high-density, low-income housing at their own expense. At that point, those suburbs would have to direct advertising to potential minority occupants in the Greater Philadelphia region. Essentially, this is what HUD has imposed on Westchester County, New York, the most famous dry-run for AFFH.

In other words, by obligating all localities receiving HUD funding to compare their demographics to the region as a whole, AFFH effectively nullifies municipal boundaries. Even with no allegation or evidence of intentional discrimination, the mere existence of a demographic imbalance in the region as a whole must be remedied by a given suburb. Suburbs will literally be forced to import population from elsewhere, at their own expense and in violation of their own laws. In effect, suburbs will have been annexed by a city-dominated region, their laws suspended and their tax money transferred to erstwhile non-residents. And to make sure the new high-density housing developments are close to “community assets” such as schools, transportation, parks, and jobs, bedroom suburbs will be forced to develop mini-downtowns. In effect, they will become more like the cities their residents chose to leave in the first place.

It’s easy to miss the de facto absorption of local governments into their surrounding regions by AFFH, because the rule disguises it. AFFH does contain a provision that allows individual jurisdictions to formally join a regional consortium. Yet the rule leaves it up to local authorities to decide whether to enter regional groupings — or at least the rule appears to make participation in regional decision-making voluntary. In truth, however, just by obligating grantees to compare their housing to the demographics of the greater metropolitan area, and remedy any disparities, HUD has effectively turned every suburban jurisdiction into a helpless satellite of its nearby city and region.

We can see this, because the final version of AFFH includes much more than just the provisions of the rule itself. The final text of the regulation incorporates summaries of the many public comments on the preliminary rule, along with replies to those comments by HUD. This amounts to a running dialogue between leftist housing activists trying to make the rule more controlling, local bureaucrats overwhelmed by paperwork, a public outraged by federal overreach, and HUD itself.

Read carefully, the section of the rule on “Regional Collaboration and Regional Analysis” (especially pages 188–203), reveals one of AFFH’s key secrets: It doesn’t really matter whether a local government decides to formally join a regional consortium or not. HUD can effectively draft any suburb into its surrounding region, just by forcing it to compare its demographics with the metropolitan area as a whole.

At one point (pages 189–191), for example, commenters directly note that the obligation to compare local and regional data, and remedy any disparities, amounts to forcing a jurisdiction to ignore its own boundaries. Without contradicting this assertion, HUD then insists that all jurisdictions will have to engage in exactly such regional analysis.

Comments from leftist housing activists repeatedly call on HUD to pressure local jurisdictions into regional planning consortia. At every point, however, HUD declines to demand that local governments formally join such regional collaborations. Yet each time the issue comes up, HUD assures the housing activists that just by compelling local jurisdictions to compare their demographics with the region as a whole, suburbs will effectively be forced to address demographic disparities at the total metropolitan level (e.g., page 196).

When housing activists worry that a suburb with few poor or minority residents will argue that it has no need to develop low-income housing, HUD makes it clear that the regulation as written already effectively forces all suburbs to accommodate the needs of non-residents (pages 198–199). Again, HUD stresses that the mere obligation to analyze, compare, and remedy demographic disparities at the local and regional levels amounts to a kind of compulsory regionalism.

HUD’s language is coy and careful. The Obama administration clearly wants to avoid alarming local governments, so it underplays the extent to which they have been effectively dissolved and regionalized by AFFH. At the same time, HUD wants to tip off its leftist allies that this is exactly what has happened.

At one level, then, the apparatus of formal and voluntary collaboration in a regional consortium is a bit of a ruse. AFFH amounts to an annexation of suburbs by cities, whether the suburbs like it or not. Yet the formal, regional groupings enabled by the rule are far from harmless.

Comments from housing advocates (pages 194–197), for example, chide HUD for failing to include a mention in AFFH of the hundreds of federally-funded regional plans already being developed by leftist activists across the country (the “Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant” program). These plans entail far more than imposing low-income housing quotas on the suburbs. They embody the regionalist program of densifying housing in suburb and city alike, and they structure transportation spending in such a way as to make suburban living far less convenient and workable. HUD replies that these plans can indeed be used by regional consortia to fulfill their obligations under AFFH.

So a city could formally join with some less-well-off inner-ring suburbs and present one of these comprehensive regionalist dream-plans as the product of its consortium. At that point, HUD could pressure reluctant upper-middle-class suburbs to embrace the entire plan on pain of losing their federal funds. In this way, AFFH could force the full menu of regionalist policies—not just low-income housing quotas—onto the suburbs.

There are plenty of ways in which HUD can pressure a suburb to bend to its will. The techniques go far beyond threats to withhold federal funds. The recent Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project has opened the door to “disparate impact” suits against suburbs by HUD and private groups alike. That is, any demographic imbalance, whether intentional or not, can be treated by the courts as de facto discrimination.

Just by completing the obligatory demographic analysis demanded by AFFH—with HUD-provided data, and structured according to HUD requirements—a suburb could be handing the government evidence to be used in such a lawsuit. Worse, AFFH demands that suburbs account for their demographic disparities, and forces them to choose from a menu of HUD-provided explanations. So if a suburb follows HUD’s lead and formally attributes demographic “imbalances” to its zoning laws, the federal government has what amounts to a signed confession to present in a disparate-impact suit seeking to nullify local zoning regulations. With a (forced) paper “confession” from nearly every suburb in the country in hand, HUD can use the threat of lawsuits to press reluctant municipalities to buy into a regional consortium’s every plan.

Regionalists consider the entire city-suburb system bigoted and illegitimate, so there are few local governments that HUD would not be able to slap with a disparate-impact suit on regionalist premises. It’s unlikely that any suburb has a perfect demographic and “asset” balance in every category. All HUD has to do is decide which suburban governments it wants to lean on. With every locality vulnerable to a suit, every locality can be made to play the regionalist game.

Leftist housing activists worry that AFFH never specifies the penalties a suburb will face for imbalances in its housing patterns. These activists just don’t get it. A thoughtful reading of AFFH, including its extraordinary “dialogue” section, makes it clear that HUD can go after any suburb, any time it wants to. The controlling consideration will be politics. HUD has got to boil the frog slowly enough to prevent him from jumping.

It will take time for the truth to emerge. Just by issuing AFFH, the Obama administration has effectively annexed America’s suburbs to its cities. The old American practice of local self-rule is gone. We’ve switched over to a federally controlled regionalist system. Now it’s strictly a question of how obvious Obama and the Democrats want to make this change — and when they intend to bring the hammer down. The only thing that can restore local control is joint action by a Republican president and a Republican congress to rescind AFFH and restrict the reach of disparate impact litigation. We’ll know after November 8, 2016.

Source: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/421389/attention-americas-suburbs-you-have-just-been-annexed-stanley-kurtz

America Overthrown: How the U.S. Government Careened Out of Control



Author, historian and researcher Garland Favorito presents facts which refute the “official narrative” about the causes, the purpose and the outcome of the American Civil War.

In this presentation Garland Favorito documents dozens of U.S. Constitutional violations committed during the 1860s against millions of Americans in both the north and south. Garland will show how those violations established precedents for today and provide an overwhelming array of facts leading to a stunning conclusion: Our Union was not actually preserved but instead, the principles upon which it was founded were overthrown.

A must see for must for political activists. This will help many understand why our federal government careened out of control over the last 150 years and lay a foundation for what can be done about it.

Restore and Preserve the Constitution Event Video

Dangers of the Article V Convention of States

Article V Convention - Publius Huldah & Paul Broun

Media Contacts
Jane Yandow,  janeyandow@gmail.com, 770-815-5599
Field Searcy,  info@indefenseofliberty.tv, 678-525-7072

For Immediate Release February 6, 2015

Dangers of the Article V Convention of States and Understanding the Facts Public Forum: February 12th

Most people are not aware that the Georgia Legislature adopted legislation in the last session calling for an Article V Convention of States for the purpose of amending the U.S. Constitution. The recently formed Committee to Restore and Preserve the Constitution will host their second public forum on Thursday, February 12th at 6:30 p.m. at Taylor Farm Pavilion on 201 Lucas Rd., SW in Cartersville, Georgia 30120.  The Committee is a strong supporter and defender of the U. S. Constitution.

Guest Speaker Publius Huldah, a retired attorney and renowned lecturer on the Constitution, will give a discourse on the “Dangers of the Article V Convention of States and Understanding the Facts.”  Her documented information will provide attendees with an insight on how the States and citizens can peacefully restore Federalism, the Rule of Law and the individual rights of American citizens.  Included are the concerns of calling for an Article V Convention and the multiple reasons it is not advisable to do so at this time.

Former U.S. Congressman, Paul Broun, will share his plan on how Americans can best work together to restore Constitutional principles.  Prior to the Forum, he will be available at 6:30 p.m. to meet and discuss various issues the public may have on this volatile subject.  Attendees are also invited to come at the same time for coffee, light refreshments and to check out the vendors’ booths which will have an assortment of related material  for sale.

Debbie Harris-Staver, the organization’s founder said “the goal of the event is for attendees to leave with an increased understanding of the dangers involved with a convention called by Congress and also recognize that there are safe solutions the states can utilize to rein in the Federal Government’s continued violations of our Constitution.”    (For information call 770-435-4558 or 770-815-5599)

For more information visit the Restore and Preserve the Constitution Facebook page.

Permission granted for reprint and distribution. Please forward.

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Sent on behalf of the Committee to Restore and Preserve the Constitution, an all-volunteer grassroots group dedicated to defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Our goal is have the states assert and implement their right and duty to contain the federal government within its constitutional bounds.

Repeal Regionalism Presentation

Field Searcy, of RepealRegionalism.com, explains how the regionalist mindset is deteriorating our republic by robbing elected representatives and citizens of their power to vote and breaking down borders into regions that cross state boundaries. What Field discusses can be seen at all levels of government in many towns across our country.

Freedom of Speech is Not Politically Correct

ARC Public Comment Policy Falls Short

By Field Searcy
September 28, 2014

Last Wednesday, twelve private citizens addressed the Atlanta Regional Commission about the adoption of a more friendly public comment policy at the monthly board meetings. For some on the board, the comments were not welcomed. Maybe they were offended by the tone or the political correctness. Maybe the words cut to close too home. Or, maybe they’ve forgotten the price that was paid to secure the right.

The very foundation of the First Amendment was the right of political speech of the people to petition their government or challenge its authority. The ARC receives federal, state and local money. Its existence is the creature of government legislation at the state and federal level even its structure violates the republican form of government. In every way, it is bound by the Constitution for the United States and the Georgia Constitution. In fact, the board members all swear an oath of allegiance to the same.

While all the ARC board members have busy lives and political careers, they should never be too busy to hear from the people that have delegated representative authority to them.

Indeed, the policy adopted is more liberal than the previous policy which required a 10 day notice, a motion by a board member, a second and a 2/3rd’s vote. The new policy on public comment remains inadequate for the following reasons.

  1. For a regional commission for 10 counties and a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) of 20 counties representing more than 5 million people, allowing a total of only 10 minutes with up to 2 minutes per person is not sufficient. Even Cobb County, which has recently been under fire for limiting public comment, has a more liberal policy.
  2. Given the limited amount of time allotted for public comment, safeguards should have been included to allow time for all points of view to be heard. Witness the backlash that was caused in Cobb by stacking of the deck with supporting voices against the citizens with opposing views. A true consultative approach of allowing differing opinions should be protected. A wise person once said “The shining spark of truth, cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”
  3. Public comment should be guaranteed directly in the ARC governing bylaws rather than a policy that can be changed “from time to time.”

The ARC Board passed the new policy with a vote of 19-7. We don’t believe the 7 that voted “no” are against free speech. Quite the contrary, we believe they wanted the sounding committee to rework the policy with some of the reasons cited above in mind. We salute them for their courage to not vote in lockstep with the rest. This was really the significant event since rarely is there ever a dissenting vote on any ARC Board decisions.

For too long, the people have been asleep and silent; not paying attention to what our elected representatives have been doing. We were too busy or too trusting to notice that authority was being subverted to unelected persons that cannot be held accountable to the people.

That is no longer the case. All across the spectrum, a political awakening is taking shape. The citizens are coming together, rediscovering that “We The People” are the sovereigns’ of the government and are reclaiming our rightful place to keep the government accountable and safeguard our liberties.

Field Searcy, a Cobb citizen, represents RepealRegionalism.com an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition, LLC which led the grassroots effort against the Regional Transportation Tax (TSPLOST) in 2012.

Permission to reprint is granted with full attribution.

Cobb County Board of Commissioners Blocks Opportunity for Dissent

Read the stunning rebuke of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners by the Atlanta Journal & Constitution as well as Chairman Tim Lee’s continued excuses for the process.  These are behind the pay wall.  You can comment here or on AJC if you have access.

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014
Atlanta Journal Constitution

Recently, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners ratified a series of agreements between the county and the Atlanta Braves obligating Cobb taxpayers with $397 million in revenue bonds. Braves President John Schuerholz has publicly stated this deal would not have been completed if more time had been allowed for public scrutiny.

What the commission allowed on the night of the vote was a sickening display of affection as 12 supporters showered praise and admiration on the board for negotiating the public financing of a private sports stadium. This shows a lack of leadership and a serious breach of the public trust.

Knowing the contentious nature of this transaction and the magnitude of the obligation from the taxpayers, the commission should have made every effort to hear dissenting opinion. The AJC later reported that 3 of the commissioners were open to amending the rules to allow additional comment from the public. Any one of them could have made a motion. Once seconded, the chairman would have no choice but put the motion to a vote.

Chairman Tim Lee claims rules were followed. Yet the board’s Rules of Procedure were violated by releasing the agenda on Friday after 5 p.m., less than 5 days before a scheduled vote. Chairman Lee seems more concerned with getting the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce passed than he is with transparency and upholding the citizens’ rights.

Under the Georgia Constitution, the people have a right to petition those vested with the powers of government for redress of grievances. Based on that principle, the board of commissioners has a higher obligation to hear from those that disagree with the funding for the Braves stadium. Instead, they chose to disenfranchise the citizens of their right to speak.

From the very beginning, this deal was done in secret, rushed to a vote after only 12 days, and now the commission has blocked public comment.  These are the actions of an oligarchy.  Ironic that this was pushed through following Memorial Day.  The Braves deal is just a symptom of a larger political disease running rampant through our governments.

Whether taxes are raised or money is shifted from other priorities, the fact remains this kind of public-private partnership is nothing more than corporate fascism, a merger of state and corporate interests benefiting the elite. That’s money that could be going to the general welfare of the county to fund schools, roads or other public services.

We elected the board of commissioners to represent the people, not the Chamber of Commerce and a multimillion-dollar media empire. No wonder public trust in government has deteriorated.

We’ve come to expect large document dumps after hours on holiday weekends from the federal government in Washington. Is this going to be the “Cobb way” of doing the peoples’ business? As usual, the deal is touted as a great model of public-private partnership that creates jobs and grows the economy. Isn’t it really another PPP that’s more about private profits, power, and politics than anything benefiting the public?

Field Searcy, a Cobb County resident, represents RepealRegionalism.com, an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition.

Source:  http://www.myajc.com/news/news/opinion/cobb-board-blocks-opportunity-for-dissent/ngJxc/#b5a50c00.3471904.735399

Light this field

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014
Atlanta Journal Constitution

It is a long-held tenet of good governance in this country that the inherent power in any political subdivision resides firmly and ultimately with the people — and not those they elect to represent them. Or it should.

This non-negotiable truth has been cast aside and utterly ignored in Cobb County. The board of commissioners there badly needs a refresher course in this essential lesson of civics. This realization is based on the commission’s ongoing conduct around the matter of relocating the Atlanta Braves to new digs north of the ‘Hooch.

Cobb officials’ behavior thus far has drawn to mind images of questionable-at-best backroom deals forged in secret by political kingpins who believe their positions are beyond, or impervious to, public oversight and accountability. The process thus far as this deal clanks along has heavily tarnished the reputation of a county that, not long ago, was widely spoken of as an example of forthright, open government.

No more can that be said. Which is a profound shame, both for that county and the region it is part of.

In our view, there is no reasonable reason why a proposal of such importance to Cobb, this entire metro area and, arguably, much of the Southeast, had to be sprung upon the public and raced to done-deal status in scarcely two weeks’ time start to finish. Such a breakneck, reckless really, pace may have safeguarded vague business interests, but it has heavily damaged the public’s trust in government — in Cobb and beyond, we believe. Both this fractured region, and Cobb itself, should not have to bear such inflation in the price of civic distrust.

With hundreds of millions of public dollars now linked to this deal, taxpayers are fully justified in demanding that they have a right to know just what is, or was, going on much earlier than they did. And these same citizens are correct in questioning why this agreement could not have been conducted to a much-larger degree in the clean light of day. To do otherwise, as Cobb has done, frankly stinks.

Yet, the commission has been maddeningly consistent in its lockout of those who might dare criticize its maneuverings. During a commission meeting last month, opponents or skeptics of the proposal were barred from stating their case. Bureaucratic reasons feebly offered for this outrageous affront of the right to petition government also badly fail the smell test.

Cobb’s mulish insistence on keeping the public as far away from, for as long a period as possible, the decisions around the Braves’ move also unfairly call into question, if not impugn, the merits of what, at its core, is simply a business deal. Albeit a big one that moves an Atlanta — and Southern — institution from the central city to a new OTP home.

It’s worth stating here that this newspaper is not opposed to the team’s move. This Editorial Board has no position on where the Atlanta Braves ultimately play America’s pastime. In our view, the team, as a private-sector entity, is to be expected to seek the deal offering the best possible upside — wherever that may be around this great town.

Yet, Cobb County government’s behavior to this point has done no favors for a proposal that is best considered dispassionately — and openly. That would have been the best way to reach the best deal for all concerned, we believe.

And it should be the way forward from this point on for Cobb’s county commission.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

Source: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/opinion/light-this-field/ngKYG/#1e1d7d57.3471904.735399

Cobb rightly seized fast-moving opportunity

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014
Atlanta Journal Constitution

When the Atlanta Braves approached us about building a new stadium in Cobb County, it was a tremendous opportunity for our community. And like most opportunities, it was only going to exist for a short time.

The team wanted to move from its old stadium. Cobb County had the infrastructure, the capability and the ideal location for this to happen. We were the best choice­ — but we were not the only choice.

Even metro Atlanta was not the team’s only choice.

With discussions of moving the franchise out of downtown it was a priority for me to get the team and their planned $400 million private development here in Cobb. Thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in local investments and new economic growth are now on the horizon. Thanks to our community and their support, this move will benefit metro Atlanta and boosts the region’s economy with every game.

The necessity for a fast process frustrated some, even as most residents celebrated. We were aware of our critics’ objections. We held meeting after meeting after meeting to discuss everything with the public. We posted details to the Internet and shared it with the media.

We held almost a dozen public meetings between the announcement and last month’s vote. Opponents routinely attended and detailed the reasons they felt we should not help bring the Braves here. We listened. And though we do not believe they are correct, we respected their concerns.

Individual Cobb County commissioners held their own public meetings to hear from both sides. Commissioners kept a careful tally of those who called and emailed their offices with opinions both for and against the stadium agreement. The numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of this deal.

We worked to ensure residential property taxes would not rise as a result of this project. Businesses near the new stadium will bear a substantial portion of its construction costs and the team itself will invest $280 million upfront and another $6.1 million annually for 30 years. These figures exclude the estimated $400 million the team plans to spend by creating an entertainment district around the new stadium.

Cumberland area businesses are willing to help support this agreement because they understand what it means for them. It means customers. The Board of Commissioners understands what it means for the county. It means jobs. It means visitors. It means an unparalleled economic boost that will benefit the entire county. It means funds that will help keep our tax rates low.

We could have held a year’s worth of meetings on this topic with the only result being that the team would go elsewhere. The fundamental objections of critics would remain, the huge support would remain, but the opportunity would be lost.

Instead, this will be a successful project for the public and the region, because we made the right choices for Cobb.

Tim Lee is chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.

Source: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/opinion/cobb-rightly-seized-fast-moving-opportunity/ngKYM/#031fafaf.3471904.735399

Cobb Chairman Blocks Public Comment on Lobbyist Contract

Last Tuesday night, the Cobb Board of Commissioners approved a contract for $168,000 to the local firm Garrett McNatt Hennessey & Carpenter to lobby for federal government grants and influence at the state capitol. Moments earlier the BOC had closed out public comment on any topic after hearing 12 supporters shower praise, admiration and thanks on the Cobb BOC for negotiating the funding for public financing of a private sports team. Not one dissenting comment could be heard on any other county business because the BOC had closed out any further public comment. Even after asking the county manager and two commissioners for permission to speak on the lobbyist contract, Chairman Lee wanted to know why I waited until that night and that he’d “think about it”. I told him that the agenda was not dropped until after business hours on Friday. This shows a lack of leadership and disenfranchises citizens of their right to speak, period.

Under the Georgia Constitution, Section I, Paragraph IX, the people have a right to petition those vested with the powers of government for redress of grievances. That is, in all counties except Cobb, where the people were also blocked from opposing comment on a seemingly small outsourced contract for lobbying services.

The $168,000 contract seems insignificant in comparison to the larger Braves financing deal but the impact could be just as big. One of the main lobbying efforts for the county would be for federal assistance on a $500 billion dollar bus rapid transit (BRT) system that would run from the Arts Center in downtown Atlanta to Kennesaw State University. The BRT system will likely require additional tax revenue to subsidize the total cost and ongoing operation of the project.

That’s the problem. Taking federal grants and incentives in the first place usually obligate taxpayers to additional unfunded expenditures. It’s not appropriate to spend taxpayer money to lobby for incentives that will ultimately cost the taxpayer more money on projects they may not want. But then again, Chairman Lee is not concerned about what the citizens want, just as long as the Chamber of Commerce and Cumberland CID (both unelected organizations) get their agenda passed.

Research handed out by the Transportation Leadership Coalition (TLC), a group which fought the TSPLOST in 2012 and was successful in blocking passage in 9 out of 12 regions, shows that taxpayers are already paying elected officials a combined $10,027,596 annually for elected representation at the federal, state and local level. This figure includes salaries and office expenses for US senators, US representatives, state senators, state representatives, and Cobb county commissioners.

Based on additional research by the TLC, it’s estimated that the salaries and office budget for the chairman and commissioners is around $1,198,557 annually. Notwithstanding the arguments against the county hiring a lobbyist firm to seek federal grants, why should Cobb taxpayers give the county commissioners more money to do their job of contacting state and federal legislators?

The county is already a member of the Association of County Commissions of Georgia which lobbies for the county’s interest at the state level. One has to ask why the county needs to hire another firm to do the job expected of county commissioners and employees.

There are still other questions to be answered. Why should Cobb taxpayers pay a lobbyist $168,000 to get federal incentives for a ½ billion dollar boondoggle BRT system that will require more taxes to subsidize in perpetuity? Was this lobby contract put on that agenda so that it could be overshadowed by the Braves bond financing approval? Isn’t the Garrett firm the same group hired to promote the failed TSPLOST? One wonders if they will do a better job the second time around. Is it possible this is being done because the local Cobb legislative delegation is not in agreement with what the county commission is doing? Is this a way for them to circumvent the Cobb delegation and strong arm the state legislature?

We elect representatives to work for the people not to work against us in creating additional tax burdens. No wonder public trust in government is at an all-time low. We’ve come to expect large document dumps after hours on holiday weekends from the federal government in Washington. Is this going to be the “Cobb way” of doing the peoples’ business? We’re seeing locally how public officials negotiate secret deals with multi-million dollar private entities outside of public review and transparency. These are touted as great models of public/private partnerships that create jobs and grow the economy. Yet, this PPP looks more like private profits, power, and politics than anything benefiting the public. Now we see the blocking of public comment that opposes the actions of local government which seems reminiscent of the all-powerful oligarchs of Soviet days. What’s next?

The Illusion of Choice

media-consolidation

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Oleg Ivutin’s childhood home became part of Russia on the border with China. He sees growing similarities between the USSR that he remembers and the USA today. What this powerful interview and montage of a scripted message delivered to hundreds of thousands of viewers by different various local news stations around the country and ask yourself, who’s really writing the news! The full infographic also reinforces the message that we are being controlled.  Download full infographic here.  Source: Frugal Dad.

Oleg Ivutin 1 from Wonderland on Vimeo.

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