“That’s to be decided.”
“To be determined.”
“We’ll have to make an educated guess.”
“We don’t have all the details at this time.”
“The devil’s in the details.”
Those were some of the words Rome City Manager Sammy Rich used Monday evening in response to some of the 57 questions submitted by city commissioners Wendy Davis and Bill Irmscher concerning plans to shift economic development responsibilities from the Rome Floyd Chamber to an economic development authority with three appointees each from the city and county. (Click here to read them).
Meeting in the Sam King Room for a caucus that also served as a dinner break for commissioners and city staffers, Rich had some of the answers the commissioners sought, including partial funding (redirecting $200,000 chamber-designated city and county dollars into the new development authority) as well as the panel’s basic structure: the city/county appointees, Rich and County Manager Jamie McCord; and the industrial recruit (and perhaps others) to be hired to stalk prospects for Rome and Floyd County.
But the “to be determines” popped up more often than not when commissioners wanted to know details about who pays what and why, and what happens to the chamber if economic development indeed makes The Big Switch. Rich reminded commissioners that making the move to the new format wasn’t that great of a challenge because “we’re in the budgeting business.”
A question about whether the chamber’s core membership had been told about the executive committee’s endorsement of the economic development shift went unanswered. (That answer is no, by the way). Chamber Chair Pete McDonald, who attended the caucus, said the chamber’s executive board had blessed the proposal in an unanimous vote in late October.
Perhaps the toughest question of all came when Rome Mayor Jamie Doss asked those in attendance — including some senior chamber volunteers as well as chamber staffers — if they had any questions. One came from Ken Wright, the chamber’s Director of Business & Industry Services. It underscored the dominant comment we continue to hear from the business community: “Why make the change?”
Rich, in reply, cited Chamber President Al Hodge’s announced retirement effective April 19 and “the need” for the city, county and chamber to make budget adjustments as the economic development model shifts. There’s definitely a chicken-and-the-egg issue thing here to begin with plus there’s ample time for all three entities to plot budgets with or without the Big Switch.
Doss then began to poll city commissioners on whether a vote on the economic development proposal was viable for the regular City Commission set to follow the caucus. That’s when the plan abruptly stalled two weeks ago thanks to initial questions during a city caucus.
City Commissioner Craig McDaniel — who with County Commissioner Wright Bagby and McDonald have spearheaded the push for the city/county economic development model — said he was ready to vote yes. City Commissioner Randy Quick asked an additional question on financial inducements some communities are offering industries they recruit.
And after that, it was more concerns and more questions from commissioners Bill Collins, Davis, Irmscher, Milton Slack, Sundai Stevenson and Evie McNiece. The commission’s budget and finance expert, it was McNiece who summed the evening’s conversation up in one comment: “Change without a plan is a disaster.”
Doss, who seemed tense throughout the caucus, quickly did the math. The proposal didn’t make it onto that evening’s commission agenda.
Unlike the County Commission — which rubber stamped the idea 5-0 after reviewing just two endorsement letters without any detailed questions on Nov. 13, city commissioners didn’t so much as reject what some said was a need for change; they declined to make any decision until they had specifics — replete of “happy talk.”
Also: Click video to watch Monday evening’s Rome City Commission regular meeting.
Later this week: Georgia Highlands College’s Community Watch takes a closer look at the proposed “Big Switch” in economic development.