I’m not happy with Gov. Brian Kemp this week. I’m not real tickled with Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson either. I’ll get over it, but not until after I explain my annoyance.
I was going about routine business Tuesday morning, attending a meeting of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority that started at 10 a.m.
Timing is very important to this issue.
The authority went about its monthly routine: approval of minutes from the preceding meeting; financial reports; a briefing on the status of PILOT agreements; and an explanation of a grant application to the Environmental Protection Agency for brownfield identification and remediation — which could bring several million dollars into the community. Then they got a marketing report with updates regarding the Sunrise Manufacturing project, VTI expansion and the Oldcastle Lawn and Garden project (which you can read about in the Business section today) before going into a closed session to discuss real estate.
The executive session was much longer than usual, so I chilled in the lobby of the Manis Business Center with Pam Powers-Smith of the Rome Floyd Chamber, a couple of gentlemen from Oldcastle and three executives with Integrated Fiber Solutions.
It was a good time to visit. One of those rare face-to-face times in an age of “Send me an email and I’ll get back to you.” It’s a good thing I was trying to make connections, because if I had pulled out my electronic leash and checked the email I would have had a stroke.
The meeting was reopened to the public and we all went back inside, where the authority approved a $30.2 million bond inducement for IFS. They will expand their plant in West Rome and add 40 jobs over the course of the next five years.
The vote to do that came at 11:22 a.m. I looked at my watch because I knew the meeting was running long and I had other things to do.
So I get back to my desk just a few minutes later — the authority offices are two blocks from the office — and start to work on the story when our editor comes out and says he already posted the story because he read about it on the Albany Herald website.
Seems the governor’s crack staff had sent out a press release about the project at 10:01 a.m., one minute after the meeting began, but an hour and 21 minutes before the vote to approve the deal was taken.
The press release from Wilson came in one minute behind the governor’s.
I realize you could make the argument that this was a done deal, because it pretty clearly was. But what would have happened if the authority hadn’t gotten a quorum?
That almost happened, because Heather Seckman was making last minute calls to make sure enough members could be present on an icy morning where road conditions were not the best and it was snowing.
What’s the hurry, Mr. Governor?
What’s the hurry, Commissioner?
Having been a reporter in Rome for 37 years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given advance notice about something that was going down. The overwhelming majority of the time I’ve been asked to hold that information until a formal vote was taken, but given background on the deal to help me know what questions I might need to ask.
It’s a fairly common courtesy in the business.
But to spew out information before something takes place? That could be dangerous.
I’ll even give you a loose example. A couple of months back, VTI came to the authority for a financial package related to their expansion. Kind of at the last minute, the company asked to hold off for another month or so until they could get all of their ducks in a row.
Suppose I had blurted out that VTI was going to expand as the meeting was getting started, and then had to retract it?
I think there’s a pretty good chance someone could have lost a job over that.
I’m glad it wasn’t me.
Again, I ask Gov. Kemp and Commissioner Wilson, what’s the hurry ?
And I haven’t even begun to whine about actually going to a meeting, wasting (not really) an hour and a half of my time to cover something that was sent out in a press release.
I hope you found some of the extra details that were in my Wednesday story worth reading — the history relative to Integrated Products, Syntec, the Peeples family and so on.
The time talking with the IFS folks during the executive session wasn’t wasted at all.
It all goes back to relationships and trust in journalism.
Some of that still exists, at least at the local level — though I will tell you I was crushed a little more than a month ago when a local business leader asked one of his employees if I could be trusted to be given a press release early so we could meet a print deadline and get the story in the paper the following morning.
The man knew I had known the project was in the works for months, had even told me he couldn’t comment at the time. I understand that. But did they trust me (not to spew it out online as soon as I got the press release)? That was like a stake to the heart.
I’ve never thought of myself as a Count Dracula type.