The Floyd County Commission has scheduled a called meeting for noon Thursday to, as the agenda states, “approve the revised unified economic development plan for Rome and Floyd County.” The meeting will be in the Community Room, Suite 206, at the County Administration building at 12 E. Fourth Ave. Prior to the vote, there is an agenda item for public participation. What’s interesting: The agenda language assuming the commission will approve the plan prior to a vote or discussion, prolonging transparency concerns that have shrouded “The Big Switch” for months.
It is the latest step in “The Big Switch” in efforts to change how Rome and Floyd County recruits new industry. Monday night, during its regular meeting, the Rome City Commission unanimously endorsed a vague concept to work with the county and the Rome Floyd Development Authority as part of the change that takes away job and industry recruitment from the Rome Floyd Chamber.
The latest proposal, which was not released to the community despite attempts by Hometown Headlines prior to Monday’s meeting, calls for the city, county and Rome Floyd Development Authority to each pledge an additional $150,000 to launch the new incentive, which includes three funded positions. Efforts to refurbish the garage behind the chamber to house the new development team suddenly evaporate. Hometown has since filed an expansive Open Records request into the latest pact as well as any and all expenses related to developing the concept in the first place (details below in the chronology).
The chronology so far:
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.” Then-mayor Jamie Doss 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.”
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 was held at the emergency operations center on 12th Street. At times confrontational, the boards agree to continue discussions.
December: The Rome Floyd Development Authority, citing its constitutional powers and strong finances from its collection of “payment in lieu of taxes” fees from previous development pacts, says it wants to be the authority to direct future industrial recruitment.
January: As Scotty Hancock becomes chair of the Floyd County Commission and Bill Collins is elected mayor of the City of Rome, both are sworn in as members of the Rome Floyd Economic Development Authority. Joining them: Elaine Abercrombie, the new chair of the Rome Floyd Chair. It turns out outgoing chair Pete McDonald, one of the advocates of the Big Switch concept, was appointed to the development authority by its members to replace Otis Raybon, who rolled off the board. Above photo.
Jan. 24: Abercrombie formally begins her term as chamber chair. Hodge, the chamber president and chief executive officer for 21 years, is thanked for his service at the chamber’s annual meeting. It marked Hodge’s last day in the chamber building at 1 Riverside Parkway. He’ll remain on call until his April retirement. Veteran chamber staffer Jeanne Krueger is named interim director of the chamber and assumed leadership that night.
Jan. 28: The Rome City Commission, following a prolonged debate, votes unanimous to endorse the concept of working with the county and development authority in regards to new economic development. During the commission’s caucus meeting, City Manager Sammy Rich presents a one-year financing deal that calls for the city, county and development authority to each pledge an additional $150,000 to launch the new incentive, which includes three funded positions. Efforts to refurbish the garage behind the chamber to house the new development team suddenly evaporate. Background: ‘Labeled an empty box with pretty wrapping and a bow on top.’
Jan. 29: Hometown Headlines files an Open Records Request with both the city and county, seeking expanded information about the economic development pact, financing and the expense records of any city and county commissioner and staffer involved in any “research” and visits conducted to this point in efforts to reshape the community’s economic development push. Hometown had requested similar information from the city manager in advance to Monday’s caucus meeting and initially was told the presentation wasn’t ready. Subsequent attempts on Friday and Monday, prior to the meeting, were not answered.