On Nov. 13, the Floyd County Commission couldn’t act quick enough in rubber stamping a proposal to shift economic development from the Rome Floyd Chamber to a new development authority whose members are to be appointed by both the county and city commissions. Rome commissioners had too many questions with too few answers, leading to a joint commission at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the emergency operations center off East 12th Street. Expect a crowd as the “model” has divided the community.
Below is a chronological look at how we got to this point, written in a narrative format. Sources including documents from the city and county commissions as well as chamber committees; Hometown Headlines‘ research and articles, including an Open Records Request to both governments; and articles from the Rome News.
As early as 2014: During a Rome City Commission retreat, the idea of a new economic development push came up. So did hiring a separate retail recruiter. The development idea would surface at subsequent annual retreats with little action. (Source: City Commission records).
Sometime in 2016: Approximately two years ago, County Commissioner Wright Bagby said “we” approached the chamber about changing the way Rome/Floyd County recruited industry. That bid was rejected, he said. Bagby reminded the commission that he and Commission Allison Watters ran on an economic development plank. County commissioners likewise cited ongoing meetings and trips where different development formats were researched; there were no such records made available to detail those trips or meetings. (Source: Nov. 27 county commission caucus).
Recent months in 2018: We heard (but have not found any minutes or evidence despite an Open Records Request with both the city and county governments) that there were some economic development meetings in which the “change” was discussed.
Oct. 15: Al Hodge announces he was retiring as chamber president and CEO effective April 19 after 21 years in the post. He is 63 years old and plans to remain active in recruiting/business.
Oct. 25: After several called meetings, the chamber’s executive committee voted “unanimously” to pursue the model where the city and county commissions would create a new economic development authority and each appoint three members (somewhat similar to what Bartow does, even with a sole county commissioner). Some members of the chamber’s board of directors say they were not consulted. Source: The committee’s subsequent memo to the city and county commissions).
Nov. 13: The joint services committee, comprised of members including Rome City Commissioner Craig McDaniel and Floyd County Commissioner Wright Bagby, bless the plan to support moving economic development to the government-appointed development authority.
Nov.13, midafternoon: The County Commission, in caucus, receives letters from the joint services committee and the chamber’s executive committee endorsing the change. The County Commission votes 5-0 to add it to that afternoon’s meeting agenda (legal, says County Manager Jamie McCord, with a four-of-five commission vote). There was no advance notice to the public unless you attended the county commission caucus). Source: McCord.
Nov. 13: The Floyd County Commission adds the economic development item and blesses it 5-0 without detailed discussion (per commission minutes received via Open Records Request).
Nov. 13: The Rome City Commission, at 5 p.m., goes into its caucus. (The Monday meeting was delayed until Tuesday because of Veterans Day observance). Both memos (chamber executive committee and joint services committee) are presented there. Again, it had not been on the agenda for that evening so there was no public notice unless you attended the caucus meeting. City Commissioner Wendy Davis immediately asks questions about finances, operations, makeup and the like. Several other commissioners do as well. Mayor Jamie Doss, sensing there is no consensus, does not add the vote to the regular meeting agenda. He mentions a potential called meeting for further review; it instead is put off to the Nov. 26 city commission caucus.
Nov. 14-26: A slew of news stories and columns appear in Hometown Headlines and the Rome News. Chamber members, the business community and others begin asking detailed questions about the County Commission’s quick action, the intent of The Big Switch and the fate of the nearly 1,000-member chamber.
Nov. 26: Rome City Commission caucus. City Manager Sammy Rich — who was presented with up to 57 questions from City Commissioner Bill Irmscher and Davis on the bid to change the economic model, provides few answers. Many were “we don’t know” or “that’s yet to be decided” or “the devil is in the details.” Doss then polls the commissioners on whether they’d be ready to vote on it. Although no yes/no vote was taken, the “nos” had the majority. As City Commission Evie McNiece said, “Change without a plan is a disaster.” Source: Hometown Headlines (attended most of the caucus).
Nov. 27: The Floyd County Commission holds a 4 p.m. caucus and basically supports the initial vote. Commissioner Scotty Hancock questions the city commission’s “around four million questions” and accuses the city of attempting to “filibuster” the model. Bagby defends the model and others concur, saying it can be fixed along the way. The city/county rec department custody battle is used as a reference to how it can be worked out without a final plan in hand. Chair Rhonda Wallace apologizes to the commissioners for all the calls they’ve received and says they’ve all suffered a “black eye” from the negative feedback. They cite an inability to track the money they send to the chamber each year and the chamber’s resistance to the plan Bagby mentioned from two years earlier. Source: Hometown Headlines (attended the meeting); Rome News.
Dec. 4: A called joint meeting of the Rome City and Floyd County commissions is set for 8 a.m. at the emergency operations center on 12th Street.
-The Rome News reports the Rome/Floyd Economic Development Authority wants custody of this new economic development team. Members cite their access to PILOT funds (payments in lieu of taxes) and overall knowledge of the subject. At one point, there was a bid to invite this development authority to the Dec. 4 joint commission meeting.
-Chamber board members not on the executive committee begin to question the committee’s vote without their knowledge. They ask Chairman Pete McDonald for a special called meeting. McDonald agrees and sets the meeting for Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 8 a.m. at the chamber.
-Somewhere in all of this, existing industry was to stay with the chamber. It later was determined existing industry would move under the new economic development director.
–Nov. 29: Rich releases a draft budget for the economic development agency — which would be the 32nd joint department shared by the city and county. In it he calls for a director to earn $130,000 a year; an existing industries assistant to earn $65,000 a year and an admin earning $40,000. The total budget, around $357,000, also includes travel, $8,000 car allowance and other expenses.
What to expect next:
-Tuesday, Dec. 4 meeting: As of 6 a.m. Tuesday, the outcome is a true wild card. We’ll have additional coverage later today.
-Wednesday, Dec. 5: The called chamber board meeting.