Arthur Blank Soccer Stadium Deal Draws Outrage

Citizens invoke divine retribution at Dekalb County commission meeting
August 23, 2015 Updated: August 23, 2015

More than one citizen called for divine retribution against their elected representatives, on Aug. 11, at the Manuel Maloof Auditorium in the DeKalb County seat of Decatur, Georgia. It was the first opportunity for public comment following the DeKalb County Commissioners’  August 4 announcement that they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to kick in $12 million to help billionaire Arthur Blank build a soccer stadium in the county.

Blank co-founded Home Depot, and owns The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC, the 22nd Major League Soccer franchise. A soccer practice stadium, soccer fields, and team headquarters are planned for 40 acres of land off Memorial Drive, near the county jail, other government buildings, and a landfill.

Commissioners allowed no public input as they made the plan, and no public comments when they announced the MOU. It’s one of a cluster of recent secretive public-private deals made in the Atlanta metro area. Plans for the future Braves stadium in Cobb County and the redevelopment of Fort MacPherson in Fulton County are also justly criticized for freezing out the public.

A desire to speak seemed to have built up among the people of DeKalb. It was standing room only, and people lined the walls. We are deep in the Bible belt, so the meeting opened with, not a prayer, but an “inspiration,” according to the electronic agenda board. Pastor Joel Honore said, “Leadership is a reciprocal relationship. Unfortunately, leaders are tempted to serve themselves.”

 Members of the audience shouted, “Amen!” and “Hear, hear!”

 “My friends, self-interest is the cancer of leadership,” said Honore. “That’s right! Tell them! Amen!” said the audience.

When the public comments portion began, one venerable matron walked slowly to the microphone. She said to the commissioners, “Thank you for voting for that.” She said she lives near the proposed development, and her area needs attention. Elise Ella was the only citizen who spoke in favor of the stadium deal. She asked that people not look backwards and debate something that was already set. But they had no chance to discuss it before it was set.

“Public dollars for private gain is a bad idea,” said Robert Ballou. “The MOU says there are not jobs for DeKalb citizens with the team.” The stadium would only generate temporary, low wage jobs for people in the neighborhood, in his opinion.

My friends, self-interest is the cancer of leadership. Joel Honore

Viola “Unhappy Taxpayer” Davis, not the movie star, said, “God always sends a warning before destruction.” She did not specify the warning. I wonder if it may have been DeKalb County’s boil water advisory, from July 25 through July 28. Didn’t ancient Egypt have a water problem?

 Faye Coffield, speaking of the MOU, said, “This is a moral disgrace.” In her opinion, “Arthur Blank can build whatever he wants to but he shouldn’t be able to use part of my money and the taxpayer’s money to do it.”

The people spoke and spoke some more. Some of them waved their arms.

One of them wore a campaign T-shirt for Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, who was assassinated in 2000 after he said he planned to clean up corruption in DeKalb County.

The soccer stadium was not on the agenda. The agenda was a lot of tame things about rights of way, traffic paint, zoning, transit, and board appointments. None of the commissioners mentioned the public outcry over the stadium plan.

Three of the commissioners voted against the MOU. They are Kathie Gannon, Nancy Jester, and Jeff Rader. One of them is my representative, and got my vote. These three are trying to do the right thing.

They published an open letter to DeKalb CEO Lee May which said: “If you want to do business with DeKalb, you should expect—indeed, want!—to have the details out in plain view, available to our public at a mouse click. That goes for subcontractors, too. It is time to go the extra mile, disclosing more and disclosing earlier than the bare minimum required to stay more-or-less legal. Don’t make frustrated private citizens resort to open records filings to get the information they deserve.”

 It’s too easy to have no clue about local politics. That might be why we get corrupt and/or incompetent leadership, the kind that citizens want to call down divine retribution upon. Fellow citizens, let’s all pay attention. Twelve million dollars could pay for a lot of fixed potholes, maintained water pipes, and smooth sidewalks.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.