New Wednesday morning: Above please find the first part of our Hometown Headlines’ radio interview with City Commissioner Wendy Davis on WRGA.
Barely 23 hours after Rome City commissioners concluded more answers were needed before they could endorse moving economic development from the chamber to a government-appointed panel, Floyd’s county commissioners on Tuesday stood fast in their rapid approval of The Big Switch proposal — and perhaps peeled back some of reasons they want a change.
Meeting in caucus before the evening’s regularly scheduled county meeting, the commission heard from several colleagues and from County Manager Jamie McCord about recent developments, including several references to “black eyes” the county has sustained since its unannounced vote in favor of the plan on Nov. 13. At issue: The unexpected cascade of questions accompanied by few answers.
Commission Vice Chair Scotty Hancock questioned why several city commissioners suddenly had “around four million questions” and called it a “filibuster” attempt.
Hancock was joined by Commissioner Wright Bagby — one of the architects of the change — in criticizing why it took so long to get answers from the chamber about the how the $120,000 a year the county provides for the chamber, in part for industrial recruitment, is spent. Bagby added that a similar change package was presented to the chamber two years ago and that the chamber declined to act on it. (The chamber is a member-driven organization that is in partnership with the city and county — and receives funds from both — but does not fall under either commission’s jurisdiction).
Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace apologized “for all the phone calls” relating to continuing questions about the board’s initial support of The Big Switch. She told her colleagues she had the “utmost respect” for them and was sorry for the “black eye” they’ve received. Wallace, who won a new term in the Nov. 6 general election, said all five members are doing what they’re elected to do: “Ask the questions and get the answers.”
Bagby and Wallace cited ongoing studies, meetings and conversations about changing the way Rome and Floyd County recruits new industry. “We don’t have the right instrument,” she said, referring to the current chamber plan. “We’ve missed so many opportunities.”
Hancock, who’s expected to become commission chairman in January, took it a step further. Also about to start a new four-year term, he said he’d yet to see a development proposal since joining the commission. “Absolutely nothing. Nothing has come to the table,” said Hancock, attending the caucus after recent back surgery. He said it was time to “change things to make it better.”
That’s not to say recruitment — and reinvestment — weren’t happening in recent years. Since 2014, the chamber has welcomed Balta USA to the former Florida Tile site (75 jobs); Stemco’s $16 million expansion and 50 new jobs; Ball Corp.’s $50 million expansion with 40 additional jobs; an $8 million expansion by Neaton Rome adding 50 jobs; and Bekaert’s recovery from a critical fire in November 2014 that resulted in a $45 million investment in the Rome plant, a move that earned the chamber statewide honors. That’s more than $110 million in investments here and 200 jobs based only on a quick review of news archives.
But others believe more is needed — and expected, fueling the bid to change development plans to one that mirrors Bartow County.
The caucus saw its share of football metaphors as well. Hancock said the change is needed and if this wasn’t the right option, “then we’ll back up and punt and do it again.”
McCord, the county administrator, earlier said he was surprised by the City Commission’s 57 questions about the switch as well as by a dozen or so questions raised by Rome/Floyd Development Authority member Doc Kibler last week. “I don’t know if we’re running the wishbone or running the spread,” said McCord, who’s worked with Bagby and city counterparts to propose the new development model.
Bagby called all the push back since Nov. 13 “unforeseen” and again cited the same studies, meetings and conversations that have occurred in recent years. He added that one of the reasons both he and County Commissioner Allison Watters ran two years ago was concern over lagging economic development.
So about those meetings. Last week, Hometown Headlines filed an open records request with both the city of Rome and Floyd County regarding all meeting agendas and minutes relating to attempts to move economic development from the Rome Floyd Chamber to a newly appointed board consisting of six members — three each appointed by the city and county commissions. The only written response from the county was the updated agenda from the Nov. 13 board meeting that included the 5-0 vote in favor of switching development plans. The minutes from that meeting — and caucus — were to be approved at Tuesday’s meeting; we’ll add those below as soon as they arrive.
But to date, we’ve seen nothing in county records to indicate the change was brewing. We have expanded documents from the city below.
McCord, in his opening comments Tuesday, did say the Joint Services Committee and others have been gathering data about making the move. He also alluded to conversations with Rome City Manager Sammy Rich on Tuesday, from which he learned a draft budget for the new development authority should be completed soon by Rich.
That led to continuing comments from the county commissioners and McCord who said, “We don’t have all the options” as yet.
One thing the commission focused on was “the model” proposed for The Big Switch. Bagby basically said a model for the change had been developed, adding its time to “accept the model and move on down the road.” Wallace agreed, adding, “We have a model that works.”
What they meant: An outline for change has been created — with few details — and they cited past successes where the model served more as a map as changes occurred. The most recent example: Changes to the Rome Floyd Parks and Recreation agency.
Said Hancock: “This is how we’ve always done business. We can’t govern like we’re afraid we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings.”
Bagby added that when the chamber’s executive board voted unanimously to endorse the switch, “I had no doubts” that it was the right move. That was bolstered by the unanimous votes by the Joint Services Committee and then the County Commission, he said (Bagby serves on both).
“There comes a time when you have to move on,” Bagby said, adding that the chamber was asked to look into such changes two years ago but eventually declined.
McCord reminded the board that the city and county operate 31 joint department as is and he didn’t know why a 32nd one — economic development — wouldn’t work.
The caucus ended with talks about a scheduled joint services meeting with the city next and then perhaps a joint commission meeting to see if there’s consensus on moving forward.
OPEN RECORDS REQUEST
Hometown Headlines filed an open records request with both the city of Rome and Floyd County last week regarding all meeting agendas and minutes relating to attempts to move economic development from the Rome Floyd Chamber to a newly appointed board consisting of six members — three each appointed by the city and county commissions.
We filed the request, seeking electronic copies of these documents, to track the evolution of the proposal to change the community’s chief recruitment program. The request opens as follows:
“Pursuant to the Georgia Open Records Act, as amended and effective April 17, 2012, this is to respectfully request access to inspect and copy the following public records:
“Any and all meeting notices, agendas and especially minutes from separate and joint Floyd County Commission and Rome City Commission meetings and committee meetings specifically dealing with changing the economic development/recruitment procedures from the community.
“Electronic records (links, etc.) are fine. I was not able to find minutes on the romefloyd.com website.”
What we got:
From Floyd County
This response from Wade C. Hoyt III, who serves as county attorney: ” … Attached to this email are all of the records we have that are in response to your request. As you know, Floyd County had no formal meetings in reference to this economic development issue. It is my understanding that staff was requested to look into this matter and report to County Manager Jamie McCord. Those issues were then presented to a joint meeting of the Rome Floyd Joint Services Committee and that, of course, was an open meeting. The matter was then sent back to the two Commissions for continued review. Once a final decision is made, the matter will be put on an open meeting agenda. The actual minutes of these meetings will not be available until they are approved at the Floyd County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 26.”
County Commission meeting, Nov. 13, 2018
The above is the answer to the Open Records Request filed with Floyd County regarding agendas and minutes of any county meeting dealing with a switch in economic development formulas. Please note the above item was added to the agenda at the last minute by a 5-0 commission as is permitted by the county’s governing rules (per County Manager Jamie McCord).
From the city of Rome:
From Andy Davis, Rome’s city attorney: “The attached documents are responsive to your request. The minutes of the Joint Services Committee meeting on November 13, 2018 have not been prepared yet, and are not likely to be completed until after the Thanksgiving holidays. The City of Rome does not keep minutes for caucus meetings. The Joint Services power point was shown and discussed during the City of Rome Caucus on November 13, 2018. Also, numbers 3 & 4 below were distributed during the City of Rome caucus meeting. The following documents are responsive:
- Joint Services Committee agenda November 13, 2018.
- Power point presentation to Joint Services (13 slides).
- Rome Floyd Chamber of Commerce letter dated November 13, 2018 to City and County.
- November 12, 2018 joint letter to Chair Rhonda Wallace and Mayor Jamie Doss and Rome-Floyd Joint Services Committee.
- April 3-4, 2018 City Commission Planning Retreat agenda/summary(page 4).
- March 28-29, 2017 City Commission Planning Retreat agenda/summary (pages 3-4).
- March 10-11, 2016 City Commission Planning Retreat agenda/summary (page 5).
- August 26, 2018 City Commission Planning Retreat agenda/summary (page 3).
- February 25-25, 2014 City Commission Planning Retreat agenda/summary (pages 4-5).
Joint Services Committee meeting, Nov. 13, 2018.
The minutes include a slide presentation that outlines the proposed change including:
- Creation of the Rome/Floyd Economic Development Authority.
- Allows both city and county commissions to appoint three members each to the authority.
- The mayor of Rome (Jamie Doss) and County Commission chair (Rhonda Wallace) sit as ex officio nonvoting members.
- The city manager (Sammy Rich) and county manager (Jamie McCord) serve as staff.
- An industrial recruiter is hired to “recruit and attract new jobs to the community.”
- The Rome Floyd Chamber plays a “strategic role” in promoting “prosperity and growth.”
- Once the development authority is formed, it creates a partnership with the chamber to promote the community and existing industry.
- This new model “continues with a stronger emphasis on industrial recruitment.”
City Planning Retreat, April 3-4, 2018
The agenda includes economic and business development but there’s not specific action/proposal indicated on the agenda.
City Planning Retreat, March 28-29, 2017
Again, no specific action on economic development but some language about moving the college and career academy to the former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital site and working with both city and county school boards to “address this common need for a college and career academy.” Also discussed: Hiring a consultant for retail recruitment (notes there was no consensus).
“Mini” City Planning Retreat, Aug. 26, 2016
“The City Commission is concerned not only with industrial recruitment but also other types of commercial businesses. The overall goal is job creation…
“The commission decided to reconsider our current recruitment plan and to consider all aspects of economic development. The goal is to determine what is the best strategy for the city of Rome at this time. The city of Rome could take a different approach to industrial and commercial recruitment in the future. ‘All options are on the table.’ ”
City Planning Retreat, March 10-11, 2016
As shown below, discussion begins on “what do we currently do? Is it enough?” Included:
Concluding city/county relations are “an asset.”
Lots of annexation talk apparently, including “discussions with the board of education regarding annexation and the impact on schools and determine any consensus on moving forward.”
“Let’s not focus only on the ig fish but actively recruit the medium-sized industries that meet our standards.”
“Hold a meaningful economic development summit with the county, with Al Hodge, offering options and strategies for discussion and consensus on a new model of economic development recruitment (September 206)
City Planning Retreat, Feb. 25-26, 2014.
The key paragraph is the final one of the minutes posted below. ” . . The general feeling was there is not enough being done to prepare for future businesses of economic impact. Apparently, businesses are looking for two primary characteristics — “pad ready” businesses sites and a trained work force. There is lots of competition for commerce and industry, and Rome needs to plan to continue to present themselves in a favorable manner. It was noted that any long-range plan is not static and is constantly evolving and once it is developed, it would need regular attention to keep it applicable. The discussion concluded with some comments regarding Rome’s past and what positives decisions were made and what mistakes have been made regarding our growth.”
Plus: Copies of the letters sent to both commissions on Nov. 13, 2018, about The Big Switch, the chamber executive board vote and the Joint Services Committee vote: