The Liberty County Development Authority is taking a “wait
and see” attitude on a request for $18,000 to continue its membership in a
lobbying group known as the Coastal Plains Coalition.
The coalition is led by the Savannah Economic Development Authority and is credited with sponsoring the recent visit of R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works to the Coastal Georgia area.
Authority Executive Director Ron Tolley told board members during a regular meeting earlier this month that the LCDA had paid the coalition $18,000 in 2016 and requested quarterly reports. No quarterly reports were provided and the LCDA had made no payments in 2017 but the coalition requested another payment for 2018.
Authority members said they recognized the importance of using lobbyists who have access to important government contacts but also are concerned about the benefits and costs of lobbying. Rep. Al Williams, an authority member, illustrated the importance of contacts: “Defense contractors do not hire a retired general because he looks good in his uniform; they hire him because he has contacts at the Pentagon.”
Authority member Brian Smith said that while he agreed, “As a taxpayer I’m not happy with lobbying, whether it’s the Friends of Fort Stewart or Jimmy McDonald or whoever,” but, “I agree with Al that sometimes you need these people to things done.”
The authority, and other government units, pay Atlanta lobbyist Jimmy McDonald $24,000 annually. The authority is also a sponsoring member of the Friends of Liberty and Fort Stewart, a nonprofit that does some lobbying, especially on military interests.
Both the coalition and the Friends group use the services of Hurt and Norton, a Washington lobbying firm with strong Georgia connections.
In other business, the authority decided to look into the feasibility of refinancing the loan on the LCDA building and also to check with local and certain regional banks for interest on savings accounts.
Only regional banks with local branches will be considered for placement of the LCDA deposits.
The authority’s meeting was lengthy, as it had placed real estate on its agenda and later added a personnel matter to be discussed. These two topics were discussed behind closed doors as allowed by the state’s Open Meetings Law. The closed session lasted about two hours.
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