Tom Call called me back about the biomass plant, and we talked about a number of other matters. He remarked that he was not an appointed spokesperson for the Industrial Authority, so this is just him talking.
I asked him about Ashley Paulk’s remarks in the 26 April 2011 Lowndes County Commission meeting. Tom Call said VLCIA was not standing behind any other body, and he clarified what had happened.
He said the biomass plant had been brought to the Industrial Authority by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which involved some gentlemanlike protocols. So in a gentlemanly manner, their Chairman Jerry Jennett, attorney Gupton, and Acting Executive Director Ricketts went up to Atlanta to tell Wiregrass Power LLC that they
“don’t have faith in their ability to perform.”Sterling (the parent company) said they would withdraw their request to extend the June 1st deadline.
“Sterling asked us to rescind the letter.”He said Sterling also said they would send a new letter with different deadlines.
Tom Call said he expected there would be a vote on the biomass plant at the VLCIA meeting later that same day (19 April 2011). He didn’t say why there wasn’t.
Tom Call said he didn’t vote for the biomass plant in the first place (he added that he wasn’t saying he would or wouldn’t have) because he wasn’t on the board at the time. And because of that
“I see myself as a consensus builder.”
He added that if the biomass plant goes away,
“I’m happy this chasm in the community is going to go away. The community needs healing.”
Regarding Ashley Paulk, Tom Call remarked,
“I don’t know why he took it upon himself to say all that.”Tom Call asked my opinion. I said among other things, I thought Ashley Paulk saw an opportunity to be the hero of the county and took it, and the Valdosta City Council and the VLCIA board had certainly given him every opportunity to do that by not saying what was going on. Furthermore, while all public bodies have their difficulties with transparency, and I realized that he was a recent appointee, so this wasn’t a criticism of Tom Call specifically, but VLCIA was the worst I’d ever run into at PR about its own activities. As a trivial example, did he realize four months on there was still no picture of him on the VLCIA website?
Tom Call said that such a picture would probably break the website, and agreed that the Industrial Authority could do better about PR. We discussed some possibilities, such as putting out press releases about local industries when they add jobs. He suggested posting a timeline for the executive director search (see below). We discussed VLCIA’s need to have some confidentiality in negotiating with new industries, and he said he thought “some transparency” was good.
I said I understood some confidentiality was necessary, and nobody expected VLCIA to post detailed notes of every negotiation session with every potential industry, but I thought their board minutes needed to be on the web. He noted that most industrial authorities did not do that, but as far as posting VLCIA’s board minutes on the web,
“I don’t disagree with that.”
He talked about a conversation he had had with Bobbi Anne Hancock after the most recent VLCIA board meeting (she told me about the same discussion a few days ago) in which she had said that the Albany, GA development authority had their minutes online, and she had emailed him later to clarify that it was actually Albany, NY. I suggested, as I often do, that we don’t have to wait for Atlanta or Albany, New York to lead: we can do that from right here in south Georgia. He agreed that we could.
He also said that after the most recent VLCIA board meeting, there were no citizens still there, but some of the board members were still sitting around, not in a formal meeting, just talking, and he told them that
“We need to get better at not letting the newspaper dictate our story and tell our own story.”
Tom Call brought up Jack Pruden’s op-ed in the VDT yesterday. He remarked that none of Mary Gooding, Jerry Jennett, or him (Tom Call) are actually from around here. I agreed that while Jack Pruden had some good points in his editorial, if he thinks oligarchy is something new around here, or if he thinks the VLCIA board members are the main members of the oligarchy, he doesn’t know local history very well. (Disclosure: I am from around here. I was born in Little Griffin Hospital in Valdosta, and I live on the same land I grew up on.)
Tom Call brought up the executive director selection process, saying he hoped the new executive director would understand PR. I told him that some people, including me, were drawing an inference from the position being posted only a week before the deadline that VLCIA had already selected someone.
He said that was not the case, that “we haven’t met any candidate”. He said the posting was supposed to be out for 30 days, so either the posting I saw was posted late, or the deadline is incorrect. He said they have received a hundred applications, and their search firm will winnow those down to six to eight. At their regular meeting the week of May 20 (17 May 2011) they will view those winnowed applications in the open meeting and then discuss them in an executive session.
Posting a timeline for the executive director selection was one of his suggestions for how VLCIA could inform the public better. Tom Call added:
“I’m all for openness.”
Tom Call noted that he is a citizen, too, that he has a full time job, and that
“I volunteer my time to make this board better.”
These notes are from memory and scribbles on a sheet of paper, and doubtless contain inaccuracies, which I hope Tom Call will correct.
That’s four out of five VLCIA board members. Remaining: Chairman Jerry Jennett.