County Chairman Tim Lee had planned to ask commissioners this week to appoint former Chamber of Commerce chairman and Bank of North Georgia president Rob Garcia to the DACC.
But Lee withdrew Garcia’s name from the agenda after Cupid objected.
Lee said Cupid called him over the weekend to say she believed it was important that the appointee live in south Cobb just as the former person who held the seat did, Don Wix.
Lee said while he would take Cupid’s request under advisement, he intends to shift the way the appointments have been made to the DACC over the last two decades.
When the DACC was originally formed by the state Legislature, it was the county chairman’s job to name the candidate and get approval from the Board of Commissioners. But when Bill Byrne was elected chairman in the 1990s, he changed the process, allowing individual commissioners to make their own appointments, a tradition continued under Chairman Sam Olens.
“That courtesy became practice and eventually evolved to the point where everybody thought it was part of the legislation when it’s not,” Lee said. “What I’m trying to do is bring it back, to go back to the original legislation so we’re doing it legally.”
Byrne and others say the real reason Lee wants to change that tradition is because Commissioner Bob Ott’s two recent appointees don’t toe the chamber line.
“This is clearly an attempt to focus on recapturing the Development Authority to represent chamber interests and offset Thea Powell and Donna Rowe’s energies to bring that under control,” Byrne said. “Rob Garcia, as you know, is the fair-weathered son of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. That’s the whole purpose of it.”
Powell said the problem is that the Cobb Chamber has cornered the market when it comes to the DACC. The DACC pays the chamber to hold its board meetings at the chamber offices. The chamber also provides staffing services for the DACC.
“I think that now we need transparency, which I didn’t see when I got on the Development Authority, and I think the chamber wants to maintain control of economic development as much as possible within Cobb County,” Powell said.
Powell raised that point at the DACC’s board meeting earlier this month, when she questioned the job description of the DACC’s executive director, chamber employee Nelson Geter. That job description has Geter reporting not to the DACC board but to Chamber CEO David Connell and Chamber vice president of economic development Brooks Mathis, Powell said.
“We pay the salary so why would we not participate in evaluating the executive director?”
Lee responded to the accusation that his goal in revising DACC appointments was to install a board that rubber-stamps the chamber’s agenda.
“Cobb County is the only county in the whole friggin’ state where it’s wrong to be aligned with the chamber and the business community,” Lee said. “I just don’t understand that. We’re all in the business of creating jobs together. They have a huge constituency of businesses; the small business associations have aligned with them. For us to sit in a silo and not support them and work with them is ignorant.”
Powell has a different view.
“When a chamber is in a position where they control a body that has been created by the Legislature that stands alone, and there isn’t any transparency, and they don’t report to that organization, i.e., the Development Authority of Cobb County, that’s problematic,” she said.
For example, Powell said she has asked for data on how the marketing dollars the DACC has provided chamber staff are being spent and what the results have yielded, but her requests have been ignored.
“So I don’t think that public monies should just be given to somebody and let them do as they will,” Powell said. “We have a responsibility that those monies need to be spent in economic development, and they need to be able to provide that data to us that ‘with this money, this is what was generated in terms of contacts or contracts or whatever.’ We don’t get any of that. There’s no reporting back to the authority. It’s just the check is written and then the money is gone.”
Byrne said Lee’s position on the chamber reflects that of “an elected official who is financially obligated because of campaign contributions to promote the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce.”
The agenda of the Board of Commissioners and chamber is not always the same, Byrne said. The chamber’s focus is bringing new jobs and business to the county.
The Board of Commissioners’ job is how issues of land use and zoning are regulated and other county policies for those who already live here, not just those whom the chamber wants to bring in, Byrne said.
“And those priorities and those policies may not be supported by the Chamber of Commerce,” Byrne said. “The IMAGE issue is just one. The issue of EDGE is another. Those kinds of things that require public funding must be scrutinized very carefully in decisions made on what is best for the taxpayer, not what is best for the job creator.”
EDGE or “Economic Development for a Growing Economy,” is a job recruitment program being development by Lee, the chamber and others. IMAGE or “ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers” is a federal program designed to stop the employment of illegal immigrants.
The bottom line, Powell said, is that Cupid should be allowed to appoint someone to the DACC who represents her community.
“I absolutely think that she should be able to appoint whomever she believes is going to best represent the interests of South Cobb and that would be somebody from that community that’s familiar with what is needed down there as far as development, advocating on behalf of South Cobb,” Powell said.
Cupid said she hopes the matter will be resolved in the next month.