Did Olens Keep Some Cobb Commissioners in the Dark?

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.

24 comments

  1. TheEiger says:

    I don’t see a story here at all. It just seems like Chairman Olens was trying to save the county money by allowing the Chamber to take control over an agency that they should already be running.

    • hannah says:

      The purpose of money is to be spent. Salvation is not to be found in the public purse. Remember “give unto Caesar…” and all that.
      The state’s purpose, by the way, is not to coerce what the preacher’s suasion cannot achieve. The state’s purpose is to do the will of the people. Which is why our agents get paid.

      • Ambernappe says:

        It has taken no effort at all to note who has become the “Taker in Chief” of private interests in the United States of late. You have posted so ardently regarding the “cons” of Conservatives that a brief rundown of your Progressive “pros” might be interesting, but perhaps, not surprising.

        • Ambernappe says:

          correction: This was intended to follow your next post but when it was necessary to re-start my computer, I did not scroll down far enough – does not alter the intent.

          • hannah says:

            Ideas should stand and fall on their own, regardless of the person who holds them and regardless of the context in which they are formed. I appreciate that many people want to pass judgment on the basis of the personal characteristics of the proponent, but I prefer not to accommodate them.

  2. Chris says:

    No. It was a vast zionist conspiracy to privatize government services, deny transparency and perpetuate a kelptocracy of the Cobb elite.

    Still makes him better than that worthless old fool Bannister.

  3. Doug Deal says:

    Well, I don’t know anything about that, but I can tell you that he certainly works behind the scenes.

    The petty little creep Olens compiled everything he could find that I said negative about him on facebook and emailed it to my county chairperson in what could only be an attempt to silence me through intimidation. He was even foolish enough to send it from him private email acount.

    Apparently, he thinks the way to win elections is to tell on people’s mommies when things get too tough on him.

    So, it is clear that he does try to go behind the scenes to do the things he cannot handle in public.

    • Lady Thinker says:

      Did he really do that? What did he think he would gain? All the more reason I will be voting for Max Wood.

      • Doug Deal says:

        Not only did the fool do that, Olens has apparently hired the old thug himself Bill Simon to troll the Facebook pages of his oppoents. His company ID Builders received $546 from Olens in March, and now Simon has been posting threats and unfounded accusations on my Facebook wall, levied at supporters of Olens’s opponents.

        • JDW says:

          That is too rich, Doug. How is that not a bigger story than Olens’ sneaking around behind the other Commissioners’ backs?

    • Doug, Didn’t you get the memo? Local party organizations are formulated for the benefit of the elite and to spread the message that is brought down from on high.

      If anyone pays attention to municipal government operations, this really is the norm. You keep one card out and the other holding the card under the table for leverage. Personally, I don’t think this is a big deal if you are part of a government that uses such leverage. However, if you’re not “in the loop” it certainly wouldn’t make you a happy camper and if you’re a commissioner, kind of makes you wonder what else you don’t know…. Then again, maybe this could be a big deal…

      Doesn’t matter to me, I’ve voting for MAX WOOD. This is one person who genuinely seeks to do the right thing. Max was heavily involved in the local GOP until his appointment as a federal prosecutor. When the appointment came, ALL the political involvement ceased. He never used his appointment for political purposes and steered clear of any perception of politics. That speaks volumes of his integrity.

      GO MAX!!!

      • Doug Deal says:

        I had him insult me to my face the other day (he didn’t know I was in the audience when he went off on “mischaracterization about his fundraising” and the video I made about it. He did not like it one bit when I stood up (which I rarely do at GOP meetings) and defended myself. He had canned responses, but they were lies that would only work against someone who did not do the research. This is what I imagine he was counting on, but I stood my ground.

        His letter to our chair was to put me in my place. The pettiness of that man is legendary.

    • Mozart says:

      That “threat” doesn’t appear to be “behind the scenes” but simply: “Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Sam Olens gave the board a deadline of Sept. 30 to approve the easement. If the board failed to, he would redesign the road to avoid the school property, thereby eliminating the improvements to Milford the county offered to make. Those $1.2 million in improvements include land for a larger playground, a safer parking lot and the shared cost of school guards. Additionally, Olens has offered to fund a $1 million lighted tunnel for students to use; however, the board rejected that offer for liability reasons. The county will acquire a 0.65 acre of right of way and exchange 0.85 acre to the school board. In addition, the county will give the district an acre behind the school to be used for a future playground – by “Mt. Trashmore.”

      Looks pretty much that it was a clear and public statement from Olens because the MDJ printed all the details pretty clearly.

      Whatever Ms. Bartlett’s perception of the events, there is likely about 98% other information about this issue that we don’t know about.

      Nice try “Ms. Myers.”

      • JDW says:

        98%? Where did you come up wth that statistic? It looks like you are saying the Marietta Daily Journal didn’t cover the story properly. And did you know that 99.6% of statistics are just made up? ha ha

        Nice try, Mozart.

        • Mozart says:

          JD,

          I’m saying they didn’t cover it fully. For instance, we do not know the reasoning why Olens gave the school board a deadline to accomplish something or else the county would take a different action.

          All we know from the story is this:

          Someone wanted something done.
          Someone on the school board dropped the ball in getting something done.
          Someone took over after the school board dropped the ball.
          Someone is upset about the result.

          THAT’S all we know here. And, that ain’t much. Maybe I was TOO generous in giving the MDJ credit for 2% of the full story.

  4. hannah says:

    Conservatives tend to perceive the purposes of government to be to control individual behavior (law enforcement) and to supervise the transfer of public assets into the hands of individuals who are deserving of favored treatment. Perhaps because public and private corporations have a commonality of interest in distributing and diluting individual responsibility, private corporations tend to be favored as recipients of public assets and resources. The monetization of almost all transactions makes it easier to account for and track such transfers, if the public, whose assets are being doled out, makes the effort to look.
    Why public corporations keep being involved in economic development in a supposedly free market system is a bit of a puzzlement. Though, given the historic rate of business failure, one suspects that speculators have an interest in being supported by public corporations that are designed not to fail. Perhaps if the Cobb Chamber doesn’t doesn’t get its pay-back, it will stop promoting candidates to fill city, county and state elected positions and focus on actually promoting commerce on its own hook. The dole is no better for private artificial bodies than it is for natural ones.

  5. JDW says:

    I don’t think many people would have a problem with the objective Olens was attempting to achieve with the transfer of some responsibilities to the Chamber of Commerce. However, a potential problem arises in the way Olens went about achieving the objective, and people begin to wonder. More and more will come out during this week and the coming weeks and the picture will become clearer. Maybe he did something wrong or maybe not, we’ll see.

  6. Game Fan says:

    How ’bout they rename the Chamber of Commerce the “Chamber of Horrors”? This is far too confusing for the average taxpayer to figure out. I don’t even know who to cheer for. Cactus Jack? Rick Steiner? Is that Abdullah the Butcher?

  7. GAPoliticsisfun says:

    I don’t have a dog in this hunt. It appears that the county commission was looking to outsource some functions in order to reduce the budget. I don’t have a problem with that.

    • JDW says:

      It’s not the objective Olens was trying to achieve that is the problem, it is in the way Olens went about achieving the objective that appears to present a problem.

  8. Archon says:

    Sam Olens will scam anyone and anything for his own personal gain. Doug you should go look at the split of his old law firm. The wake left from that still causes some serious heartburn for some of the folks involved.

    The problem with allowing Economic Development to be handled by the Chamber is that Chamber members are not accountable to anyone in Cobb but the big corporations that pull the strings.

    Partnership yes
    Control no.
    If the chamber folks want control of government then they should run for office.

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