Authority member Thea Powell referenced a report in the Journal about the Authority offering $50,000 to Republic Property Company to encourage Fabric.com to move from Marietta into Republic’s Jiles Road building in Kennesaw, directing her comments to Nelson Geter, who the Chamber hired in January to serve as the Authority’s executive director.
“Why are the Development Authority members reading about this is in the paper?” Powell asked. “You report to us, right, Mr. Geter?”
Geter said that he did indeed report to the Authority’s board. An Open Records request revealed that Geter has been involved in the deal since being hired in January, a deal he did not share with his board.
“So I don’t know whose responsibility it was to notify the other members, whether it was the chairman’s or yours, but this is why we need policies and procedures in place,” Powell said.
The discussion kicked off when Geter told the board he had the power to offer a company up to $100,000 for relocation grants, an authority the board granted the executive director in April 2009.
“There may have been some level of discomfort with that,” Geter said.
Development Authority board member Clark Hungerford asked if there was any requirements for the grants, such as a minimum number of jobs that needed to be realized before awarding the Authority’s public money to a business.
“It’s not in the minutes,” Geter said.
Powell, who was appointed to the Development Authority by Commissioner Bob Ott in March 2011, said no one had bothered to tell her the executive director had such authority.
“This needs to be part of a manual,” Powell said. “I got very little when I came on board, and I was expected to vote at my first meeting. We need to manage the process professionally, and everyone on the board needs to understand what the process is.”
Powell said that when she called Geter a few days ago to ask why he did not inform the full board about the grant, she received a surprising answer.
“Mr. Geter, you said that the company didn’t want this to be public knowledge,” Powell said. “So, I guess what somebody is saying is that … we can’t keep our mouths shut.”
Powell wasn’t the only board member to complain about being kept out of the loop.
“We should have at least been informed that this was going on, that there was a project going on,” Authority member Bob Morgan said. “I do agree with Thea that we should know about it before the Marietta (Daily) Journal knows about it.”
Even Hungerford, who has defended the Chamber in the past, said the board should have been told.
“Nelson and I talked a little bit about communication, and I think it would have been helpful to let us know that that was in the works,” Hungerford said.
Authority Chairman Don Wix said he had first discussed the matter “around Christmastime” with Brooks Mathis, the Chamber’s economic development vice president who served as the Authority’s executive director until being replaced by Geter.
Mathis, who was in attendance, pointed out that a memorandum of understanding would be signed by both the Development Authority and Republic in order for it to receive money.
Another point Powell raised is that while the minutes refer to “relocation/incentive” grants, the Development Authority’s audit references “relocation and training costs” and its meeting agenda refers to “relocation and expansion grants.”
“We need some consistency,” Powell said.
Wix called for a committee to be formed to come up with a policy on how the executive director is to grant such funds in the future. The committee will be chaired by Morgan and include members Powell and Hungerford.
Wix asked Geter, Mathis, and Michael Hughes — the county’s economic development director — to provide the committee with some recommended language in the next two weeks.
Wix told the board what he knew about the Fabric.com deal.
“The way it was presented to me is another neighboring county had put $400,000 on the table,” Wix said. “I said, ‘well, we can forget that. We’re not going to go there.’ Then it came back that this issue of the $50,000 came up. I said, ‘well, if it makes a difference then yeah, but I don’t even think it’s going to scratch,’ so that’s how that happened.”
Morgan asked Geter to explain the deal.
“Kennesaw is giving a total of $50,000,” Geter said. “We have offered $50,000. They wanted us to consider another $50,000 and we said, ‘no, that you would have to come back and we would bring it before the board.’ So all we committed to was $50,000.”
Geter said he hoped to bring back a signed memorandum of understanding by the next meeting.
Powell pointed out that the number of Fabric.com’s employees is uncertain.
“I would expect that that MOU would indicate truly how many employees they have,” she said. “We’re going all the way from 156 to 275.”
In other business, Geter said the board needed to begin the process of looking for a new attorney, with George Dozier retiring at the end of the year. Dozier became the Authority’s attorney in the mid 1990s, taking over from the late Sidney Parker, who began representing the Authority when it first formed in 1973, Dozier said. Dozier said he retired from most of his other accounts four years ago, and now that his partner, Bob Silliman, planned to retire also, it was time for the Authority to get new counsel.
Geter said a search would probably take three months, prompting Wix to appoint a committee chaired by Hungerford and made up of Richard Moore and Powell to bring back a recommendation on whom to hire.
Silliman offered advice on what should be requested.
“The difficulty that you’ve had in the past is we’ve agreed not to charge for going to the meetings,” Silliman said. “Our fees come out of the bond counsel fees. And so a lot of the firms have balked at that … so that needs to be in the RFP.”
Also Tuesday, the board voted 5-0, with Donna Rowe and Al Searcy absent, to approve a bond resolution not to exceed $17 million for the International Academy of Smyrna. The resolution will allow the school to borrow money at a lower interest rate as it expands its facility.
The kindergarten-to-eighth-grade charter school is located in the first floor of the former Rich’s building on South Cobb Drive. It plans to expand to the second floor.
The board also approved a bond resolution not to exceed $23.5 million for Home Depot’s Kennesaw expansion.
Last November, Home Depot announced it will build a new customer support center in Kennesaw and hire 700 people. The company plans to open the center, to be located in Kennesaw’s Chastain Meadow commercial office park, with more than 400 employees and expand to 700 by 2015.