HB 218 is not GOP legislation. Rather it is legislation for all Georgians and for economic development in all of Ga. - Let's not Kmart there again.
"Bill trades secrecy for jobs --Law would shield from public view government deals to lure business"
The newspaper article ought to be entitled:
"Bill seeks to facilitate local authorities seeking industry recruitment and job growth and level playing field -- Law would allow authorities to recruit industries and protect companies as they seek to locate in Georgia"
As far as the Other Georgia is concerned, the thrust of HR 218 is that it allows economic development authorities to go into executive session to discuss prospects and the status of negotiations concerning potential prospects so long as such action is part of a "program of economic development."
A "program of economic development is one established by an agency for the purpose of maintaining, supporting, or expanding the economic or employment base of the jurisdiction that establishes the program."
It does this by exempting from the Open Meetings Law and the Open Records Law meetings, records and documents that would "[i]dentify or reveal private persons, businesses, any other agency or entities contacted or being solicited by the agency in carrying out the [economic] development functions of the agency."
These exemptions from the sunshine laws are no longer applicable "once the agency, person, business, or entity publicly announces that the entity or business that is the subject of negotiations will be retained, expanded, or located in the jurisdiction or that negotiations to do so have been terminated or abandoned."
The above quotes are from the proposed legislation.
This legislation is not only important to the Other Georgia (as well as Georgia), it is critical.
Now the ajc article:
City and county governments, and the state, would be able to throw a near-total veil of secrecy over their efforts to lure industries under a bill speeding toward a House vote next week.
House Bill 218 would permit all economic development agencies in the state to withhold from the public details of their negotiations with companies — including the identity of the firms and the location of the projects.
Critics say the legislation would make it easier for governments to blindside communities with anything from landfills to slaughterhouses.
"It's done before you have a chance to look at it. Why keep secrets from the people?" asked David Hudson, a First Amendment attorney in Augusta and legal counsel for the Georgia Press Association.
Bill trades secrecy for jobs -- Law would shield from public view government deals to lure business
Advocates of the proposal say secrecy is the price that must be paid to land big-ticket industries that could add thousands of jobs to the economy.Bill trades secrecy for jobs -- Law would shield from public view government deals to lure busine
"It has everything to do with bringing jobs to Georgia. The public, because of their right to know, shouldn't cause us to lose these jobs," said Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Garden City), the lead sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House economic development committee.
The legislation cleared Stephens' committee this week and could reach the House floor for debate as soon as Tuesday. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association support the measure.
Because of the speed of the legislation's progress since it was introduced Monday, its most likely opponents — who include the state's homeowner associations and other groups that keep a close watch on growth — have yet to weigh in.
Michael Perla, president of People Looking After Neighborhoods in Cobb County, called the bill "troubling."
"This would seem to be a step backwards — especially since it often involves taxpayer money. You'd have to ask yourself what they have to hide," Perla said.
Georgia's open records law already gives the state Department of Economic Development the authority to withhold from public inspection documents that reveal the trade secrets of companies with which the agency deals.
The agency routinely assigns code names to the companies being recruited in order to shield them from exposure.
'A competitive edge'
But state industry recruiters want a broader exemption from public scrutiny. "We and West Virginia are the only states that don't have this degree of confidentiality. It's a competitive edge that we don't have," said Craig Lesser, head of the Economic Development Department, which approached Stephens with the legislation.
The bill would permit information such as a project's impact on roads, schools, sewer systems and the environment — and the cost of that impact — to be withheld from the public until a deal is either struck or abandoned.
Incentives offered to companies, such as tax abatements and money for training, could be kept under tighter wraps. The use of incentives has become perhaps the most controversial part of economic recruitment.
Three years ago, Georgia offered DaimlerChrysler a $200 million package, which included six cash payments totaling $9.4 million, if the automaker would locate a van manufacturing plant near Savannah.
Georgia was competing against South Carolina, and won. The automaker ultimately backed out, but Gov. Sonny Perdue's administration has always maintained that negotiations with DaimlerChrysler haven't officially been severed.
Cities and counties, too
Under this bill, Rep. Tommy Bordeaux (D-Savannah) said, the state would not have been required to reveal any details of the incentive package. Obviously, at some point, the public has a right to know," he said.
Lesser, whom Perdue appointed economic development commissioner, couldn't cite an example in which a company refused to move to Georgia because of the threat of public exposure.
A distinctive feature of the Stephens bill is that it extends the secrecy to the economic recruitment efforts of cities and counties. Stephens said competing states often search through local records for clues to what industries are being offered as inducements.
The lawmaker cited the recent interstate battle for the DaimlerChrysler plant. "They were getting the very details of what we were offering. And we couldn't get theirs. South Carolina's confidentiality laws are much more strict than Georgia's," Stephens said.
Lawyer: Prove harm
The legislator said Georgians could still get information on economic development in their neighborhood through the local zoning process, which he said would be unaffected by the legislation.
Hudson, the Augusta attorney, said the bill would create a level of secrecy far beyond that in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee or Florida.
"Before you pass this law, you ought to have a compelling case for what has been harmed by the public access we have now," he said.
[end of ajc article]
Is the glass half empty or half full? The above-noted ajc article presents things from the negative viewpoint. Let me try to present a different perspective. (I have waited since last Friday to do this, hoping someone would write this for me, and am surprised that the "other" side has yet to come forward.)
And as I started to present the "other" side, I recalled. Hey, I have already written a post in a different context that raises the very points that need to be made.
It was a 10-31-04 post entitled "The power of the pen. In just 3 business days one can get documents from governmenttal agencies. -- Thanks ajc for the Kmart piece. Most informative." In that post I wrote:
Have you ever heard of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD)? It recruits businesses, trade partners and tourists to Georgia.
You may still know it as the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism.
I have been the attorney for the Douglas-Coffee County Industrial Authority for many years, and recently, we followed the lead of GDEcD and changed our name to the Douglas-Coffee County Economic Development Authority.
Economic development is a tough game when you live in the Other Georgia. In Douglas and Coffee County we pride ourselves with all of the good fortune we have enjoyed. Such success led Tom Perdue (yeah, that one, as in former former Gov. Harris' Chief of Staff, Mac Barber and Sen. Chambliss) to dub us the "Oasis in the dessert."
Where I am going with this? Recruiting businesses and industry is both an art and a science, and at a minimum it requires patience and discretion.
I once heard the attorney for the development authority is a neighboring city relate has one evening the authority was discussing a prospect. The authority chairman asked that the reporter from the local paper to put his notepad down -- something customary for us in the Other Georgia -- and the authority proceeded to discuss how a large tire factory was considering locating to the area.
The next morning on the front page of the local paper was the headline: "XYZ Tire Co. considering [the Georgia town] for new plant."
That afternoon the authority received the call. All negotiations about the company's possible plant location in the area were off.
This past Friday [October 29, 2004] I read a story in the ajc's business section under the headline "Ga. $28 million shy of Mich. Kmart bid."
In the business index of the ajc the story gets one's interest up by proclaiming "Wooing Kmart a 'delicate balance.' Documents offer rare look at Georgia strategy."
Go to the story itself, and the headline is "Kmart: Georgia cautious in attempting to lure retailer to leave Michigan."
The story begins by noting:
"Georgia may have to dig between the sofa cushions for change if it wants to win Kmart from its home state of Michigan.
"The Peach State's economic incentive package is about $28 million short of what Michigan is offering to keep the headquarters of the country's third-largest retailer, according to state documents obtained through a freedom of information request. [The authors mean through a Georgia Open Records Act request.]"
The story proceeds to tell about what Kmart has told Georgia it wants; what Michigan is offering; etc.
And then it notes: "The documents offer a rare glimpse into the internal discussions of negotiating to land a large company in Georgia."
A couple of days ago [before the October 2004 post] I had a post about being lunched. The post was entitled "Reading about getting breakfasted over Kerry, & then being lunched over Shipp, all in 24-hr. period. -- Politics lives always for the moment to come." The "breakfasted" bit had come from a Baxter & Galloway piece noted in the post.
This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting Charles Gay with the ajc. He has the final word on what makes it into much of the paper, but I feel confident the editor for the business section is someone else.
If I was Gov. Perdue or Mayor Shirley Franklin, or if I worked with GDEcD, and my state, city and department are still recruiting Kmart, I would have been looking for someone to breakfast, lunch, sup and dine on Saturday morning.
Come on guys. Whose side are you on anyway? At least stay in Georgia; in the Other Georgia you would be tar and feathered (and possibly quartered) and run out of the state, or at least to "the" Georgia.
[end of October 31, 2004 post]
Right after this news breaking scoop from the acj, it was announced that Sears was purchasing Kmart, and thus all discussions about Kmart relocating its headquarters to Georgia was put on hold.
Had this not happened, does the ajc think it did a good job for the public it serves in breaking this story. I know this might be part of a reporter's job, and thus I am not being critical of the reporters who did the story.
Regardless, this bill would change what might have happened with KMart.
I urge you to contact your local representative and senator and strongly encourage their support of this needed legislation.
As noted above, not only is this legislation important to Georgia, all both Georgia's, it is critical.