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 Bryan 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 Bryan 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 secrecy.
For proof of this, residents needn’t look any further than the north end of the county where the county’s Industrial Centre is home to eight manufacturing or distribution sites that employ a total of nearly 500 people. And as plans continue to develop for the Belfast Commerce Centre, wouldn’t it be nice to know when the time comes what kind of industries are trying to set up shop in South Bryan?
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 Bryan 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.