The Marietta Daily Journal certainly suggests so. They reported last week that Republican candidate for Attorney General Sam Olens was involved, along with two other Cobb County officials, in a behind-the-scenes plan to bring all of Cobb County’s tourism and economic efforts under the Chamber’s control.
While such a story would normally be of little political interest, the MDJ reveals more information – information they obtained through Open Record Requests.
But documents obtained from the county under an Open Records Request, as well as interviews with government and Chamber leaders, show divergent opinions on the status of such a merger. And although the documents suggest the Chamber’s immediate goal is to take over the county’s economic development agency, the documents also show a much grander scheme, with the Chamber also hoping to take over the Cobb County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
According to the documents, former Chamber Chair and Georgia Power executive David Connell, Chamber CEO Don Beaver, and current Chamber Chair Rob Garcia have been allied with former County Chairman Sam Olens and former Commissioner Tim Lee dating back to September 2009 to execute a deal to move the county’s three-person economic development office to Chamber headquarters. Olens and Lee historically have strong ties to the Chamber, and the deal, if approved by the Board of Commissioners, would eventually make the Chamber the “official agent coordinating economic development initiatives.”
The documents obtained by the MDJ indicate that the deal was being made behind-the-scenes with several commissioners not being informed of the talks. One such Commissioner had this to say:
Southeast Commissioner Ott added, “It’s one thing if [Olens] and the president of the Chamber are sitting down talking about it, I just kind of wonder why Tim was there without the rest of the board knowing about it.”
“Absolutely, you want to have a coordinated effort, but I think the process of getting there, you’ve got to include the board from the beginning. So if there’s any issue, it’s not with whether it should happen, per se, there could be some benefits to it, but if you’re going to obligate the county to any dollars or activities, the board needs to be involved,” Ott said, citing Lee and Olens’ discussions with the Chamber officials months before the agenda item was discussed.
Read more of the Story and Olens’ response below the fold.
The MDJ also had the oppurtunity to interview County Manager David Hankerson, who was involved in the consolidation effort.
Q. What do you think the other commissioners (Bob Ott, Woody Thompson and Helen Goreham) are going to say when they see these e-mails and realize they weren’t in the loop?
A. I don’t know… The Chairman [Sam Olens] would typically walk the halls and every time we’d meet I’d say ‘Are you keeping the other commissioners informed?’ And he would say ‘I am’, or ‘I have’.
In the interest of fairness, this newly minted front page poster contacted Sam Olens to get his side of the story.
All of the large metro jurisdictions (Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett) have the County’s Economic Development office in the Chamber or the Development Authority. None have their Economic Development Director with the County. Cobb used to have their ED director in the Chamber but the President of the Chamber requested the transfer in the 1980s. The Cobb practice constantly causes confusion with the various ED consultants and State Economic Development. We discussed transferring the position back to the Chamber, accomplishing an annual savings of $100,000/year as the administrative assistant and staff person would not be needed due to existing Chamber staff. The newspaper has been concerned that the transfer would adversely affect open records requests. Based on the decision concerning Atlanta’s application to bring the NASCAR Museum to Centennial Park , all documents would still be subject to the open records act as it involves public monies. Further, any economic development decisions would still require consent of the County Chair, a public vote by the Board of Tax Assessors and the Development Authority [a state agency]. While some are using this issue for political purposes, the transfer would save the County much money and have no effect on the public’s right to know all such transactions.
The MDJ certainly seems to think there is some issue here. I’m not familiar enough with Cobb County politics to weigh in on whether this story is being pushed by upset Commissioners that feel like they got left out, third party interests, or an actual issue. From the outside looking in, it looks like Olens was trying to prevent a politically charged issue from exploding in the face of progress. Whether that was right or wrong is far above this intern’s paygrade.
With Ken Hodges being the exception, there has not been much reporting on Attorney General candidates. As the primary election draws closer more stories, both positive and negative are bound to come out about all the candidates in this race.