Falcons stadium deal cries out for transparency, public participation, says Common Cause board member
By David Pendered
Wyc Orr, a board member of Common Cause of Georgia, is raising questions about the legality of negotiations over a new football stadium and urging for more public involvement in the planned public payments for the proposed $1 billion-plus facility.
In a piece titled, “Open roofed, closed doors,” Orr writes that if news reports are to be believed: “The negotiations, back-and-forth positions, trade-offs, terms and potential agreements have been conducted with only the barest pretense of opportunity for significant input from the public.”
Orr says taxpayers should press the issue with their state lawmakers, who likely will be asked in the 2013 legislative session to authorize a $100 million increase in the borrowing capacity of the Georgia World Congress Center. The increase is likely to be portrayed as the final straw to completing the deal to start construction, he notes.
Orr is a former member of the state House of Representatives (1989-93) who remains influential in state Democratic circles. He was widely talked up as a candidate to oppose Sen. Saxby Chambliss in the 2008 campaign, but opted to remain as a senior partner at the law firm of Orr Brown Johnson, with offices in Atlanta and north Georgia.
Orr suggests that the negotiations over the stadium are beyond the scope of exemptions in the state’s Open Meeting Law regarding economic development. He states:
- “This goes beyond an argument of whether or not these negotiations are subject to our state’s open meetings laws. This is no ordinary or routine negotiation by a public entity of real estate transactions or courting industrial prospects in competition with other states. In those instances, secrecy is protected for a beneficent public purpose.
- “If it can be argued that these negotiations are within the sphere of any exemption from open meetings requirements, then the law is being ‘stood on its head’ to protect something clearly beyond the salutary reasoning behind such exemptions.
- “In this instance, such secrecy risks incurring and increasing the high levels of distrust citizens already have with their government, as seen in the recent defeats of so many regional referenda on T-SPLOST taxation, including the defeats in and around Atlanta – not to mention the growing controversy surrounding the Charter School Amendment. Despite those risks and rebukes, are the stadium negotiating parties intentionally avoiding public scrutiny until the process is so far along as to be impervious to public input and veto?
In July, Orr took on the state Legislature over its role in the transportation sales tax referendum. Orr contended that lawmakers shirked their duty to provide leadership on a crucial duty of state government. In a piece that appeared in ajc.com, Orr predicted a certain outcome if voters rejected the proposed transportation sales tax:
- “Uniform voter rejection of T-SPLOST will not delay transportation improvements in Georgia. Rather, it will send this planning duty back to where it belong – the General Assembly – as its first item of business at the 2013 session, which begins in January, the same month the T-SPLOST tax would otherwise begin.
- “Voters will ahve sent a message to their legislators: ‘Do your job. Plan for Georgia – all of Georgia, as one state.’”