Updated: New questions about The Big Switch economic development rush. Among them: Did the chamber executive committee overstep its authority? Other chamber board members think so. NEW: Draft budget for the new development authority.

Updated: New questions about The Big Switch economic development rush. Among them: Did the chamber executive committee overstep its authority? Other chamber board members think so. NEW: Draft budget for the new development authority.

From  the Rome Floyd Chamber’s bylaws.

THE LATEST

Economic development: A special called meeting of the Rome Floyd Chamber’s board of directors is now set for 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5.

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There are additional questions today about the bid to move economic development duties from the Rome Floyd Chamber to a government-controlled authority. Among them:

  • Did the chamber’s executive board have the authority to bless the concept of another city/county development board? Not according to chamber bylaws.
  • Did the chamber’s board of directors know about the executive committee’s decision to endorse a switch? At least two active members tell us no.
  • Did anyone research the reasons why economic development moved from government control to the chamber model back in the late ’90s to begin with? Based on what was said at Monday’s City Commission caucus, the answer is no.
  • What about rising questions from the business community on overall economic development: do we have available sites for new industry? (No). Will the postponed extended airport runway be adequate for new industry demands if and when it is completed? (Split decision). Does the community have the capital for incentives industry seeks these days? (Maybe). And what exactly is the response when asked about easy I-75 access? (Hint: A four-laned Ga. 140 helps but only for the northern end of the county).

The Floyd County Commission says it has a “model” from which to build a better way to draw industrial development to Rome and Floyd County. What’s more, it is dumbfounded why others are hesitant to jump on board, citing early endorsements from a city/county committee and another from the chamber’s executive board that may have overstepped its authority.

Not so fast, says the Rome City Commission, awash in dozens of questions from commissioners about the concept of shifting economic development from the chamber to a city/county department governed by a six-member board of appointees. They want answers, from dollars and cents to what becomes of the chamber (including continuing economic support beyond one year).

Any answers would be appreciated by a growing number of chamber board members, some of whom were caught off guard by the executive committee’s memo to both city and county commissions blessing The Big Switch. And they might have good reason: A review of the chamber bylaws shows why.

The question is who gave the chamber’s executive committee the authority to “unanimously support Floyd County and the city of Rome to create a separate entity for the purpose of economic marketing for Floyd County and the city of Rome… The final decision was made during a called meeting of the executive committee on Oct. 25, 2018. The motion was made by Dr. John Cowan and the second offered by Bob Blumberg. The vote of the committee was unanimous. It lists those voting yes as Nancy Knight, chamber chair Pete McDonald, chamber chair-elect Elaine Abercrombie, past chair John Quinlivan, Chris Kerr, Jill Maslanka, Bob Blumberg, Andy Garner, Dr. John Cowan.” (see the full letter below)

The bylaws state:  “The board of directors is responsible for establishing procedure and formulating policy of the organization. This shall include the adoption of a statement of policy, which shall serve to provide the framework for its decision-making responsibility on all matters.” A review of the bylaws shows no indication where the executive committee represent the chamber as it presents to do with its memo to the city and county commissions.

And then there’s this item:

SECTION 5: LIMITATION OF AUTHORITY.
“No action by any member, committee, division, employee, director, or officer shall be binding upon, or constitute an expression of, the policy of the Chamber until it shall have been approved or ratified by the Board of Directors.”

Look for the chamber’s board of directors to address that soon. Thursday afternoon, a special called meeting of the board of directors was announced, set for 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5. The next regular board meeting had been set for Dec. 13 at 7:45 a.m.  For now, it puts the County Commission in a peculiar spot as that board rushed a vote to support creation of the new economic development authority on Nov. 13. Citing the chamber executive committee’s letter and one from the joint services committee, the County Commission added the economic development shift to its agenda during caucus without other public notice and then blessed the idea unanimously. As late as this past Tuesday, the commission was citing that chamber executive committee vote as one of the reasons why it acted so quickly. The county likewise is upset about the “black eye” it has sustained for doing so.

Another one could be on the way if the chamber executive committee vote is deemed worthless — and perhaps rushed for this very reason. Thanks to the city commission’s in-depth questions, other chamber members have had time to question the executive committee vote and to demand answers. That likewise is spreading to the business community — angered in part by the rush vote with no supporting documentation. If there are memos and minutes, none have been made public (we’ve already asked per state law).

In turn, business leaders are asking even more questions about the overall state of Rome/Floyd’s ability to court new industry. The concerns we’re hearing:

  • As City Manager Sammy Rich said at Monday’s caucus, Rome/Floyd County is one commitment away from being without a prepared site to land a new industry.
  • The community passed a five-year special tax project in November 2017 that goes into effect on April 1. There’s $3.1 million due through March 2024 for “real estate and infrastructure for economic development” as per the project list. There are budgeting methods available to borrow those funds now — perhaps a critical need with just one viable option (110 acres at that) for new industry. Click project list.
  • The extension of the runway at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport/Towers Field — part of the 2013 special tax package — is in park as not enough money was budgeted to do it properly. What’s more: Even if extended as proposed, it still might be too small for some major industrial players scouting Georgia locations, according to some prospects. However, as proposed, it would stretch more than 7,000 feet and would be longer than the state’s current champion at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport (6,001 feet).
  • Why not take an extensive look at all of the community’s economic development needs and then decide the best course: chamber model, county commission model or perhaps another option.

There might be an answer to that last question in particular. Athens-Clarke County created “Envision Athens” three years ago “to develop a community and economic development strategic plan to lead Athens-Clarke County forward.” The preamble continues:

“Funded partially outside of the government through a consortium of organizations, the campaign was designed intentionally to be inclusive and community-driven. The vision and Action Agenda set a direction based on the priorities from the public and the insight gained through technical research. Over the course of 10 months, dozens of conversations were convened across the county to uncover the most pressing issues and promising opportunities.

“The process began with the initiation of a 38-member Steering Committee. This body was designed as a representative group choose through an open application process. Applicants were selected based on the complexity of the County’s demographics along with its various interests.”

Click here for more.

Basically, they did it right. They took time to access the big picture, they brought in community members to help paint that picture and, in turn, there were answers to many of the questions even before they were asked. (Blaine Williams, with strong ties to this community, would be the first place to start as he’s the manager of the United Government of Athens-Clarke County).

It’s a move Rome/Floyd County should consider. Leave the chamber-based model intact for perhaps another two years while the community invests time and talent into a critical assessment of where we stand in economic development and what needs to be done. Redirected dollars to a new development authority with a sole industrial recruiter is not the right model.


This just in from Rome City Manager Sammy Rich:

DRAFT Economic Development Budget November 27, 2018
Economic Development Operating Budget Original Appropriation
Payroll* $235,000
Retirement $30,550
Insurance Group Health $30,540
Workers Compensation $1,440
Social Security $14,570
Medicare $3,408
Postage $500
Office Supplies $1,600
General Operating $300
Technology Equipment $1,000
Food $5,000
Uniforms $0
Small Tools $0
Service Contracts $2,200
Gas and Oil $0
R&M Internal $0
Prof Serv Medical $100
Prof Serv Legal $1,000
Prof Serv Other $300
Utilities Electrical $1,400
Utilities Telephone $2,000
Utilities Natural Gas $0
Utilities Water and Sewer $100
Garbage Collection $80
Advertising $1,000
Dues & Subscriptions $2,000
Printing $500
Business Travel $10,000
Training & Education $3,500
Miscellaneous $200
Vehicle Allowance $8,400
Total Economic Development $356,688
*Payroll Includes:
Director of Economic Development $130,000
GREIA Liaison/Project Manager $65,000
Administrative Assistant $40,000
Salaries Subtotal $235,000
This draft budget was created based on the 2019 budget variables for the City of Rome.


 


The chamber executive board memo:

 

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