Political Insider

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Election done, it's time for that awkward meeting between the Braves and their new Cobb partner

Elections have consequences – many of them awkward, if not downright embarrassing.

One such consequence is scheduled to take place Monday in a much-bulldozed area of south Cobb County, in the shadow of steel superstructure that, by next spring, will be the new home of the Atlanta Braves.

That’s when executives of a club that now specializes in both baseball and real estate will get a first glimpse of its new partner. The one who defeated the old partner.

Like we said. Awkward.

‘I want them to get to know who I am. Obviously, I’ve got some questions for them, connected to the traffic issues and parking plan,” said Mike Boyce, the retired Marine colonel who last month swamped Republican incumbent Tim Lee in the primary runoff for Cobb County commission chairman.

Boyce had accused Lee of giving too much weight to the Braves’ demands for speed and secrecy when it came to the team’s move out of Atlanta, and not enough to taxpayer concerns over what a half-billion dollar public investment might have actually purchased.

Lee won 36 percent of that argument. Boyce got the remaining 64 percent.

Constant fractiousness in places like DeKalb County have jaded many of us. But when it comes to local governments in metro Atlanta, unscheduled regime changes are actually rather rare. One reason is that the ships involved can be large, of aircraft-carrier dimensions.

Cobb County’s population of 720,000 or so is roughly on par with the entire state of Alaska.

In bodies of that size, transitions of leadership become complicated and important. On Wednesday, slightly more than two weeks after his victory, the future Cobb County commission chairman met with the one he’d defeated.

David Hankerson, who has served as county manager for the last 23 years, was there, too.

“It went well. It was cordial. It was a very short meeting,” Boyce said. Specifically, the victor asked for – and received – permission to begin calling top county staffers, to begin briefings on the workings of the government he’s about to inherit.

Boyce forswore sabotage, and was offered a similar pledge in return. “I assured the chairman that he’s my chairman until Jan. 1, and I will do nothing to undermine his administration,” he said. Boyce quoted Lee as saying that he, in turn, would try to avoid long-term policy issues.

“He was conscious of that,” Boyce said.

Boyce said he has continued to meet with his core supporters, to assure them that he’ll remember who brung him to the dance. He wants to visit some grandkids. He’s got a mission trip to Romania scheduled for next month.

But first, he’s got that Monday meeting with the Braves front office. Sharp turns aren’t in the offing.

“They’re like me,” Boyce said of the Braves. “They want to be careful that they don’t put something out there that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted. There’s no sense in confusing people by having to change it later on. So I respect where they are.”

Boyce said he will go to his meeting intending to fulfill Tim Lee’s promises, not overturn them.

Here’s the irony of the situation: Lee made acquisition of the Braves the proud centerpiece of his failed campaign. But Opening Day 2017 is likely to be the first big political test of the man who replaces him.

Commissioner Bob Ott, whose southern district includes the new stadium, compared it to the Olympics coming to Atlanta in 1996. “Everybody knows what Opening Day means. Cobb has to be ready,” said Ott, who will be part of the Monday meeting with the Braves.

Ott was brought into the 2013 Braves deal, but only after its shape had been largely determined. So Ott’s presence in the room will be a statement in itself.

Once his meeting with the Braves is done, Boyce will be on a plane to Grandkid Land, and probably won’t fully re-engage until late September or early October.

The next chairman wasn’t too clear what would happen after that. So it was worth consulting with someone who’s run this particular gauntlet before.

Before he was attorney general, Sam Olens was chairman of the Cobb County Commission. Olens supported Lee’s re-election, but said he thought Boyce perfectly capable of assuming the post.

Notebooks and hours of study are in Boyce’ future, Olens said. Hankerson, the aforementioned county manager, will ask each department head to produce a thick cheat-sheet on his portion of county operations.

Which raises another first challenge for Boyce: Hankerson has served as the titular head of the county’s bureaucracy since 1993. He’s had a large, often unacknowledged hand in Cobb County government’s reputation for competency.

Hankerson’s contract expires at the end of the year, Olens said. Whom would Boyce replace Hankerson with, and how quickly?

Boyce is likely to get his way on that first decision from the five-member commission. “You can outvote the chairman. The chairman has the same vote that everyone else has. But you can’t out-connive the chairman,” Olens said.

Beyond that, the attorney suggested that Boyce start cultivating good relations with Cobb County government’s 5,000 employees. (See Opening Day 2017).

Then there’s the matter of Boyce’ relationship with the Cobb business community, which had stood squarely behind the luring of the Braves, in all its secrecy, and behind Lee’s re-election. They will need reassuring, too, Olens said.

“What’s going to happen the first time there’s a proposed project for economic development. Is Cobb County out of play? That’s a big decision,” the attorney general said. Signals will have to be sent.

I asked Bob Ott about this last point from Olens. He wasn’t too fond of it. The coming of the Braves stadium is already generating new waves of growth, Ott said. “The fact of the matter is that a lot of things are happening on their own. They don’t need incentives,” the county commissioner said.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.