Photo by: Hyosub Shin of the AJC
At some point, a conversation we were never allowed to hear, took place between Arthur Blank and Atlanta’s Mayor, Kasim Reed. A few other conversations we never heard took place between Reed and some city council members.
Other quiet conversations – between Reed and state legislators, Reed’s staff and the Governor’s office, city council people and construction contractors, state legislators and stadium marketers – lead to this: an announcement. A pronouncement. A done deal. A “compromise,” in the sense that appearing to use slightly somewhat fewer millions in public money is a compromise when the public would prefer an amount of zero.
They have decided. But we have not.
The public deserves a referendum on stadium spending.
This week Mayor Kasim Reed reportedly indicated to members of the Atlanta City Council that Arthur Blank implied that the Atlanta Falcons might consider a move to Los Angeles. If Arthur Blank or the Falcons are using a whispered threat of a move to Los Angeles as leverage in its negotiations seeking public money for its private gain … well, they have company. Continue reading
A recent report from the Georgia Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that the City of Atlanta’s spending transparency is not up to par with current standards. The report analyzed thirty of the country’s largest cities’ transparency practices. Atlanta was ranked in the bottom five for spending transparency receiving a failing score of only 46.
Atlanta was docked because it doesn’t offer anything above and beyond its standard budget documents. Seventeen out of thirty of the cities studies provided residents with online access to “checkbook level” details of expenditures. Atlanta was one of the five failing cities that provided no online checkbook for the cities expenses, which inhibits citizens from knowing what their tax dollars are going to fund.
The report shows that transparency websites cost little to start up, and increase efficiency and ultimately save money in the long run. One of the major benefits to such sites is that it reduces the need for cities to process as many open records requests. Making the information available for wide consumption also helps keep officials accountable to the public. The argument often used in the State Legislature is that disclosure is enough to maintain ethical standards. Having this data on a city level would be one step closer to having a more transparent city, and helping residents trust their local government.
In a press release Laura Murray, Advocate for the Georgia PIRG Education Fund, highlighted how important these standards are saying, “City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health. Spending transparency can help Atlanta’s population hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent.”
In order for Atlanta to increase its transparency rating it would need to implement some of the suggestions outlined by Georgia PRIG, namely:
- Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.
- Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.
- Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.
- Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.
- Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.
- Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.
You can read the full report here.
This morning the Georgia World Congress Center Authority met to approve the non-binding terms of the new stadium deal with the Atlanta Falcons. The meeting only lasted ten minutes, after which the board unanimously rubber-stamped the twenty four page framework. No one on the board had any questions, and there was no discussion of the deal.
During the meeting the public was not given the opportunity for public comment. In fact during the two years that the negotiations have been taking place, they have been given little, if any, opportunity to provide input into a project that will be partially funded with public hotel/motel tax money. CCGA worked to increase public participation by holding a public forum, which was attended by GWCC Executive Director Frank Poe. This was the only opportunity anyone had to voice their concerns and desires for the future of the stadium. As of now, the public has been shut out of the process by both the Falcons and the GWCC.
The next steps for the deal will be for the GWCC and the Falcons to create a Memorandum of Understanding, which will be presented to the City of Atlanta, the Fulton County Commission and the Legislature. The City and County must approve the use of the hotel/motel tax funds. The Legislature must approve the plan and give the GWCC the ability to increase their bond selling capacity.
There is still time for the public to weigh in before the deal is final. We are encouraging the GWCC and the Falcons, as well as the legislature, to give the public the opportunity to weigh in on the deal. This deal will have a major impact on Atlanta residents, Falcons fans, and the general public. Given that there is public money at stake, it is only fair that the public be involved and their wishes be heeded.
For more information on how the process has proceeded view the WSB-TV timeline.
By Wyc Orr, Common Cause Georgia board member
As most of us have heard, a “deal” is apparently in the works to build a new home for our Atlanta Falcons. Negotiations are reportedly already in advanced stages, with the AJC reporting that this deal will likely be all wrapped-up by the end of the year. Construction costs, seat licensing, annual rent payments, repurposing the old Georgia Dome site and a host of other topics are said to have already been proposed, negotiated, and nearing final approval between the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta Falcons.
According to this article from the Saporta Report, just last night during remarks of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Falcons Owner Arthur Blank, and Falcons President Rich McKay to Falcons faithful at the Fans Forum before the Falcons-Dallas Cowboys game, there was no update or further information provided concerning the status or content of the “ongoing” negotiations between the Falcons and the GWCC Authority – despite those parties apparently being committed to reaching a formal agreement before the end of this year – which is less than two months away now. In other words, this train has not only “left the station,” it is seemingly about to reach its destination with little if any meaningful public input.
Posted in Civic Engagement, Georgia Legislation, New Stadium
Tagged Arthur Blank, City of Atlanta, Falcons, Falcons Stadium, Georgia Dome, Rich McKay, Roger Goodell, World Congress Center, Wyc Orr