Cobb residents seek to block Braves stadium bonds; no ruling

About a dozen Cobb County residents sought to block the public financing plan for the new Braves stadium in a court hearing Monday on the county’s intention to issue up to $397 million in bonds for the project.

The bond validation hearing, which began at 1:30 p.m. and lasted more than six hours, ended with Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard making no ruling.

“I have a lot to consider and will take the matter under advisement,” Leonard said, adding that he hopes to issue a ruling by the end of July.

Under Georgia law, court validation is required before a government agency can issue bonds.

Residents of a city or county seeking bond validation are permitted to argue against it in court. By the start of Monday’s hearing, 13 Cobb residents had filed motions to intervene in the case, objecting to the issuance of the bonds on a variety of legal grounds. Nine of the 13 were in the courtroom.

Attorneys for Cobb County and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority argued that the proposed bond issue meets legal and financial requirements and should be validated. J. Kevin Moore, representing the Authority, said the Georgia Supreme Court “time and time again” has ruled revenue bonds can be issued under similar circumstances.

Cobb resident T. Tucker Hobgood, an attorney who filed a motion to intervene on his own behalf, led the way in arguments against the Braves bond issue.

He contended validation should be denied because the underlying stadium transactions violate the intergovernmental contracts clause and gratuity provisions of the Georgia Constitution, represent an “invalid basis” for issuing revenue bonds and would result in tax money being spent on a private facility.

He said that because that the Braves will control the stadium and its revenue streams, it effectively will be a private facility even though the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority will own it.

“This isn’t a public facility and isn’t intended to be,” Hobgood said. “… They (county officials) are putting $390 million into a private facility.”

Hobgood subpoenaed Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee to testify at the hearing. Asked by Hobgood if the stadium will be a public or private facility, Lee said it will be public-private.

Hobgood pressed Lee to elaborate on many aspects of the stadium agreements. Lee repeatedly indicated the agreements speak for themselves. One exchange between Hobgood and Lee drew laughter in the courtroom, followed by a quick rebuke from Leonard.

“This is not going to turn into a spectable for the media,” the judge said. “I am here to determine the legality of the bond.”

Another Cobb County resident objecting to the bond issue, Chris Peters, told the judge “there is no substantial public benefit” in the stadium.

The objectors touched on many aspects of the stadium deal that might be outside the scope of the judge’s decision on validation.

“You want me to go back and Monday-morning-quarterback the whole negotiation, and that is not my role,” Leonard said at one point.

Validation hearings are meant to assure investors that bonds issued by a government agency are legal and binding.

Similar hearings were held in Fulton County Superior Court earlier this year regarding Atlanta’s plan to issue up to $278 million in bonds to partially finance the new Falcons stadium downtown. In that case, Judge Ural Glanville validated the bonds, rejecting objections by a group of five residents of neighborhoods near the stadium site. The residents last month filed a notice of appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, halting the issuance of bonds for the Falcons stadium until the appeal is resolved.