To the editor:

With all due respect to my old friend John Sherman, who questioned in the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation Newsletter the veracity of some of the statements in my recent article in the Buckhead Reporter (4/25/11), I would respectfully submit that a great many of Mr. Sherman’s claims, to borrow his phrase, “are utterly devoid of factual support.”

First, Mr. Sherman identifies as his examples 191 Peachtree, the Marriott Marquis, as well as 30 Peachtree Center (sic), the last of which I assume was a typographical error or an incorrect address. Mr. Sherman claims that these buildings were 20-year-old structures for which the Development Authority of Fulton County (“Development Authority”) issued, in the aggregate, $1 billion in bonds and for which the Fulton County Board of Assessors provided real estate tax relief, although only minimum wage employees were employed at the time in these buildings.

Mr. Sherman’s assertions are demonstrably untrue on many levels.

First, the assertion that these buildings had housed nothing but minimum wage cleaning personnel is a great exaggeration. The truth is that each of these buildings were under-utilized with low occupancy levels and declining economic value prior to the Development Authority’s involvement.

The Development Authority became involved in these projects at the urging of Central Atlanta Progress in connection with its efforts to revitalize downtown Atlanta. The Development Authority’s bond issues for each of these buildings were conditioned upon new ownership with extensive capital improvements, which resulted in increased occupancy and significant new employment opportunities with many high-paying professional jobs.

As a result of these efforts, these buildings now have higher property values with substantially higher occupancy levels, and hundreds of high-paying jobs in downtown Atlanta have been created or saved — all of which broadens the tax base and enhances tax receipts.

Mr. Sherman’s identification of buildings is also incorrect and/or misleading.

Specifically, he referred to the Marriott Marquis, but the Development Authority’s bonds were not, as he suggests, used for the benefit of the hotel facility. Instead, the bonds helped to finance revitalization of the adjoining office buildings.

In a similar vein, Mr. Sherman alleges that the Development Authority provided bond financing, and presumably tax abatements, for a number of other projects, including the condominiums in the Sovereign and Mandarin projects. In fact, neither the Development Authority nor Board of Assessors has ever facilitated any real estate tax incentives for any residential condominium projects. Moreover, the Mandarin project, which he also lists, was never constructed.

Citing the Georgia Development Authority without attribution to a specific individual or document, Mr. Sherman questioned the legality of the Development Authority’s office and hotel projects. In a very glaring factual omission, however, Mr. Sherman failed to mention that these projects, like all other bond issues in Georgia, were subject to approval by superior court judges in legally-mandated judicial validation proceedings.

Over the past year, Mr. Sherman and his counsel appeared several times in Fulton County Superior Court and objected to proposed Development Authority bond issues, and in each instance different judges of the Fulton County Superior Court have independently ruled against Mr. Sherman and approved the bond issue.

Finally, Mr. Sherman mischaracterized the Georgia Supreme Court ruling on Nov. 1, 2010, addressing this subject. The trial court had dismissed Mr. Sherman’s claims, holding them to be legally baseless. A closely divided Georgia Supreme Court remanded the case back to Judge Jerry W. Baxter at the trial court level for discovery and further proceedings.

Given the procedural posture of the case at that time, there was no evidence in the record upon which the court could base a meaningful evaluation of these bond transactions. Pending the reconsideration of the case by the trial court, Mr. Sherman and his counsel sought to convert the case into a class action, but Judge Baxter recently ruled against class certification. Contrary to Mr. Sherman’s assertions, the case is far from over, and the issue of the propriety of these transactions had not been decided.

Lost in all of Mr. Sherman’s misguided legal and other attacks is the fact that the Development Authority of Fulton County has enjoyed tremendous success in bringing businesses and new jobs to our community. But for the Development Authority’s efforts, many of Atlanta’s signature buildings today would be vacant lots.

No one – not even Mr. Sherman – could argue with a straight face that Fulton County’s taxpayers would be better off or that tax receipts would be higher if the Fulton County landscape was dotted with vacant lots rather than world-class real estate developments.

These factual discrepancies illustrate why the development authority and other local governmental entities unfortunately have been forced to expend substantial sums for legal fees in defending against Mr. Sherman’s misguided legal attacks over the past few years.

Robert J. Shaw, Chairman, Development Authority of Fulton County