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Citizens Ask IDA About Transparency, New Industrial Park

By LYDIA BERGLAR
News Editor

The Industrial Development Authority’s March 18th meeting was fairly short, with several questions from citizens taking center stage.

Evan Stone (executive director) reported that he recently responded to two RFIs (requests for information) while two other recent RFIs asked for more land than the IDA has available.

James Cantrell (IDA chairman) then opened two sealed bids for 28 acres on the west side of I-59 that the IDA is selling. Both bids were from Daniel Clark who outbid himself. The first was $105,025, and the second was $152,025.

Stone noted that this second bid was within ten percent of the appraised value. Cantrell noted that the property was appraised at about $168,000, and he opened discussion to the board. The board accepted the second bid.

Beginning the Public Comment time, Will Dickerson said, “Tracy [Blevins] and myself are still very interested in what happens behind us…We would love to have behind me and Tracy surplused, and we would buy it.”

Cantrell responded, “That piece of property is different. This [28 acres] is on the other side of the interstate over there and no access, really.”

Dickerson repeated his request, concluding with, “We definitely want to preserve our way of life and our community there.” Cantrell thanked him for his time.

Tying into her request at the March county commission meeting (see the March 13th Sentinel), Susan Talbott asked if the IDA is required to post meeting minutes on the website. Cantrell said they are not required to. Talbott asked if the IDA must follow Georgia Sunshine Laws, to which William Back (recording secretary) answered affirmatively.

Talbott waited for a further explanation before Robin Rogers (county attorney) said, “We do make minutes available.” Talbott asked where they are made available, and Rogers said via the county office or by getting in touch with Stone.

Cantrell said, “We’ve never published them online,” to which Talbott responded, “Just because you never have doesn’t mean that you’re not necessarily not required to. I did read the Sunshine Laws before I came, and I believe you’re required to post them after they’ve been approved.”

She cited title 50 chapter 14 which requires that “regular minutes of a meeting subject to this chapter shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection once approved as official by the agency or its committee, but in no case later than immediately following its next regular meeting.” The laws, however, don’t specify if minutes must be posted on a website or must be requested.

Rogers said that the IDA would look into the matter, saying that they always make minutes available usually by the next regularly scheduled meeting.

Talbott said that she has recently been trying to learn more about what the IDA is doing but there is no livestream of the meetings and no meeting minutes posted on the website. Stone noted that the county stopped livestreaming the meetings, and Talbott said she has spoken to multiple people in county positions. “What does it take for me to get you guys, with the county who has the equipment, to say, ‘Hey, yeah, we can do this’?”

Stone again pointed back to the county, noting that the county does not livestream board meetings (Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or Special Use Permit Board, for example) other than the county commission meetings.

Talbott stated that the IDA should consider improving its transparency, to which Stone noted that all meetings are open to the public, but Talbott noted that these meetings are Monday mornings while many citizens are at work.

She noted that the IDA’s website is not up-to-date. She later added that she could not find phone numbers other than Stone’s listed on the website.

Cantrell said the IDA would sit down with Ted Rumley (county executive) to ask for a county employee to livestream the meetings.

The third citizen in attendance, Melissa Faircloth, then asked, “Where do I find the organizational documents that pertain to this board so that we can understand how you work?” Rogers said that Georgia laws govern how the board works and he would send her that information in a few days.

Talbott asked if the IDA has bylaws, to which Rogers said yes. These can be obtained through an open records request via the IDA.

Stone said, “There has been nothing done that was not done in public. There’s been no votes to buy anything, to sell anything, unless it was in a public meeting. We have the local organ here to report on everything we do every time.”

Talbott said, “That’s fine, Mr. Stone, but if I’m a citizen, I don’t have to justify why I want to read your minutes.” Cantrell said that the minutes could be posted on the website once they’re approved.

Will Garrett (board member) said, “I would like to be as transparent as the law allows us to be.”

Faircloth then asked if the IDA has industry prospects coming to the new industrial park (the old Price Farm). Stone said they have received RFIs but no company is ready to sign. Faircloth asked if one or multiple companies will come to the new industrial park. Cantrell said it depends on how much land companies need.

Faircloth asked if Chattanooga Industrial Motors will build on the property on the eastern side of Highway 11 that they purchased from the IDA. Stone said CIM bought a second location inside the industrial park and can do whatever they want with the current strip by Highway 11.

Seth Houts (board member) said that once he receives the approved minutes, he will add them to the website where the agendas are posted.

The authority entered executive session, reporting afterward that no vote was taken.

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