Three years after they were denied the opportunity to cast a ballot for or against bringing the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County, voters have ousted the architect of that plan, Chairman Tim Lee, from office.
Lee lost his bid for reelection this week to retired marine Col. Mike Boyce, who ran on a platform of transparency after Lee struck a closed-door deal with the Braves that included committing some $400 million in public funds to build a new stadium.
Lee has said that the Braves threatened to take their offer elsewhere if he made the deal public sooner, but the secretive nature of the pact and the forcible removal of citizens from a hearing on the stadium did irreparable damage to Lee’s credibility. Interviews with voters and advocacy groups across the county the day after the election revealed an emphasis on increased accountability and openness.
Bartender Byron Fuller of Smyrna lives a short drive from where giant cranes can be seen erecting SunTrust Park, slated to open in April. He said he thought the vote was more anti Lee than pro Boyce.
“When major things happen like that and you’re given no opportunity to have a say in it, that’s really frustrating,” Fuller said of the Braves deal.
Monica DeLancy, a community advocate for the Six Flags Drive neighborhood, described a hopeful atmosphere in South Cobb.
“The mood, especially from the community, was that Cobb County is moving in a new direction,” DeLancey said. “They are confident that the new leadership will be inclusive and bring everybody to the table.”
DeLancey said she anticipated the new chairman would be more open to dialogue on matters of concern to South Cobb. Lee has clashed in the past with South Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid over policing and other issues.
Cupid, for her part, sought to draw a bridge between what Lee has accomplished and what his successor has promised.
“I look forward to working with Chairman Lee to ensure momentum continues on some of the efforts begun during his administration and am excited about Chairman-elect Boyce’s interest in improving transparency, leadership, and trust within our county government,” Cupid wrote in an email.
While the stadium was by far the biggest issue in the race, it was not the only one.
Jennifer Burke of the Cobb Parks Coalition said the group looked forward to working with Boyce on greenspace, a central pillar of his campaign.
Carlos Garcia of the Pro-Immigrant Alliance of Cobb County said his organization was happy to see Lee go after the chairman signed several voluntary immigrant enforcement agreements the group opposes.
“We’re looking for a new change, especially more welcoming towards immigrants,” said Garcia, who described Cobb as a “hostile environment” under Lee’s leadership.
Cobb NAACP President Deanne Bonner did not address Boyce’s election. She called Lee a “fantastic asset” to Cobb who would be remembered as such.
Boyce beat Lee in Tuesday’s runoff by a significant margin—64 to 36 percent. Overall turnout was 12 percent, down slightly from the general primary in May. With no Democrat in the race, Boyce faces no opposition in the November general election.
“It’s a big challenge and large responsibility but I’m ready for the task,” Boyce said. “[Lee] indicated he wanted to work with me on this transition plan and I accepted, and I’m going to work with him in that vein.”
Although Boyce’s campaign capitalized on resentment to the Braves deal, he has said that he is fully committed to the success of the project and anticipates meeting with the team soon.
“We congratulate Mike Boyce on his victory and we look forward to working with him, as well as the rest of the Cobb County Commission and the great team of public servants in the County,” The Braves said in a statement Wednesday. “We also commend Tim Lee for his visionary leadership of Cobb County the past six years. We are grateful for his leadership, dedication, and the deep foundation he has helped build that will allow the Braves to thrive at SunTrust Park for decades to come.”
West Cobb Commissioner Bob Weatherford, who endorsed Lee, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the election but prepared to “work together to make sure that Mr. Boyce is successful.”
East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott, the only commissioner to openly endorse Boyce, said he thought Lee’s negative campaign mailers, including one depicting Boyce as a puppet controlled by shadowy forces, backfired.
“You could just really tell that Mike had connected with the people,” Ott said.
David Connell, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is excited to work with Boyce.
“Our mission is making Cobb a successful and competitive community, and that’s Mike’s focus too,” Connell wrote in an email. “We’re here to support him and help him as he transitions into his new role.”