Isn’t there enough secrecy in government? Apparently not, according to Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who earlier in the current legislative session introduced a bill that would curtail transparency in government by allowing governmental and quasi-governmental agencies to keep certain information from the public.
Under the legislation, dubbed SB 159, entities such as city councils, county commissions and development authorities would not have to disclose what businesses and industries they might be working to attract and how they might plan to use taxpayers’ money to court these businesses.
As far as the average citizen is concerned, it boils down to this: A local governmental agency could work out a deal that would allow any industry or plant to set up shop in a location you might question, but under the provisions of this bill, you would not find out until ground was broken. Not exactly a comforting scenario.
Proponents of the bill say that keeping a prospective industry’s or business’ plans hush-hush will give the region a competitive edge because the company being courted wouldn’t have to worry that its competitors will get wind of its plans to expand, relocate or open a new facility.
Of course we’d like to think Liberty County’s governmental agencies wouldn’t ride the legislation into the depths of secrecy, even if they could. However, the fact of the matter is, under the provisions of the proposed bill, they could.
The possibility of additional jobs — and income — for our region certainly is alluring, and there’s no doubt Liberty County can ill afford to pass up such opportunities. But our local authorities and entities have done an admirable job of drawing new industry to the area without having to hide behind a veil of clandestineness.
For proof of this, residents needn’t look any further than the east end of the county where Firth Rixson has just completed its closed-die forging facility, which created more than 200 new manufacturing jobs. The area also is home to International Greetings USA, which moved to Liberty County in 1996 and, 15 years later, has expanded its original facility several times and purchased two other buildings. The company’s three structures in Liberty County now cover more than 500,000 square feet and employ 135 full-time and 60 seasonal workers.
The language in Senate Bill 159 actually first reared its head six years ago in a similar measure, House Bill 218, which passed in the House but died in the Senate amid much public outcry.
Obviously the legislation wasn’t necessary then and it’s not necessary now, especially considering Georgia currently ranks No. 5 in states for business site selection, according to a March 4 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The article states that last year alone, Georgia managed to attract 251 projects — all without the backing of a state law that promotes government secrecy. There are other ways to keep prospective business’ plans and information private, and Liberty County’s own entities and governmental bodies have proven that.
This bill would allow the government to keep the public in the dark, and that’s not acceptable under any circumstances. Georgia’s residents have a right to know what kind of industry is being planned in their communities.