Why is it important to shield private contractors and subcontractors doing government business from Georgia’s Sunshine Laws as House Bill 976 sought to do?
Why did its sponsors, Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) and Rep. John Carson (R-northeast Cobb), not want us to see what those contractors and subs are doing with our money?
It's moot - for now. The legislation was tabled. But it’s instructive to study what was going on here because Cobb County and state elected officials will be working closely with contractors over the next several years.
“My understanding is people are beginning to use open records requests for the sole purpose of gaining records of … private businesses' payroll records,” Ehrhart told the MDJ’s Nikki Wiley.
Ehrhart declined to provide Ms. Wiley with any examples of people poking their noses into private records but he did say, “I can’t imagine that this is even controversial…I think (those questioning the bill) need to readjust their tin foil hat.”
So Ehrhart thinks Cobb taxpayers like me who worry about a giant pile of tax dollars attended by an invisible and unaccountable few are wild eyed conspiracy theorists lacking faith in our fellow man?
No, Rep. Ehrhart, we have a healthy skepticism that politicians can always be trusted to do the right thing.
Many of us are also concerned about the $300 million the Cobb County Commission gave the $16 BILLION Liberty Media Corporation to build the new Braves stadium so a bunch of their millionaire employees can play baseball here.
Recall that at the behest of Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee the stadium deal was rammed through with speed, stealth and no real public comment two days before the Thanksgiving holiday last year.
Why was this haste necessary? Why did Cobb County Commission Lee cloak the stadium proceedings with secrecy? Why did the Commission ignore the many loud Cobb County voices raised in protest?
And why House Bill 976, the timing of which stinks to high heaven?
I know this sounds crazy, but very often when the financial records of contractors working on public projects are closed to third party scrutiny, criminality can and often does occur.
That’s especially true when we’re talking about hundreds of millions of tax dollars and the prevailing wisdom among the feloniously inclined that nobody will miss a slice from a cut loaf.
Hypothetically, let’s say some influential politician’s brother-in-law has a "consulting firm" whose sole client is the general contractor on a big ticket public project, a new baseball stadium, for instance.
The brother-in-law sends the general contractor a bill for “consulting services” that are never performed and, by pre-arranged agreement with the contractor, the bother-in-law receives a fat payment.
Then that fat payment miraculously ends up in some influential politician’s pocket, minus a small commission for said brother-in-law.
Such a scam constitutes conspiracy and either wire or mail fraud, all serious felonies that can result in a lengthy stay as a guest of the federal or state government.
That hypothetical scenario and others like it happen all the time when public dollars, politicians, and private contractors get together, so it’s not my tin foil hat talking.
As reported by Ms. Wiley, here’s what I and others find so curious about Ehrhart’s and Carson’s sudden interest in confidential government contracting:
“(I)t was Ehrhart who first connected Cobb Chairman Tim Lee with Atlanta Braves executives before the $672 million stadium deal was hatched using $300 million in public dollars.”
As my sister likes to say, “Things that make you go hmmmmm.”