I’m all for openness —Tom Call

The member who hardly ever speaks at board meetings makes a strong case for openness.

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.


7 thoughts on “I’m all for openness —Tom Call

  1. Leigh Touchton

    Sterling said they would send a new letter with different deadlines? Then this is just going to keep going after June 1? Mr. Quarterman, can you help me understand what that part meant?

  2. Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

    When I understand it, I’ll be happy to help everyone else understand it. When Jerry Jennett calls me, I’ll ask him.
    Meanwhile, we know a lot more about what’s going on (on more than one topic) than we did a few days ago, due to the efforts of many people.

  3. Michael Noll

    Thanks Mr. Quarterman.
    Perhaps it is time for those with insights into the local oligarchy to expose this power structure, particularly as it relates to those who either still support or hope to benefit from the proposed biomass boondoggle that threatens the health of our citizens.

  4. Michael Noll

    Let me see if I got this right:
    1) The week before the last meeting of the Industrial Authority (IA) Wiregrass Biomass LLC sent a letter to the IA asking for an extension of the agreement to build the biomass incinerator. (June 1, 2011, is the current deadline.)
    2) Based on comments made by Chairman Paulk and others, all indications were that the IA may have been ready to vote down such an application for an extension of the agreement.
    3) However, the vote on biomass never came up at the IA meeting, and as a matter of fact, biomass wasn’t even discussed, as it was not even on the agenda. Apparently a few hours before the IA meeting, “biomass” (or a vote on the extension of the agreement with Wiregrass Biomass LLC) was removed from the agenda.
    4) This change of events (i.e. the removal of a vote on biomass) was based on an initiative by Mr. Jennett (Chair of the IA board), Mr. Ricketts (Project Manager of the IA) and Mr. Gupton (the IA lawyer) who went to Atlanta to have a little chat with Wiregrass Biomass LLC (or Sterling Planet).
    5) As a result of that talk, Wiregrass Biomass LLC withdrew their application for an extension of the agreement. Thus, there was no contract (or an extension of a contract) to vote on at the last IA meeting.
    What sense would it make for Wiregrass Biomass LLC to send “a new letter with different deadlines” according to Mr. Call? How is that different from the original letter that apparently asked for an extension of the current agreement with the IA, which for all practical purposes must have had a “date” in it (e.g. December 31, 2011)?
    After all these months of protests and at a time when it is clear that the community (including members of the LCC and CC) do not want and/or support this project anymore, we are still playing games? What on earth are people like Mr. Jennett and Mr. Ricketts thinking, and how on earth is it possible that members of the IA board (e.g. Mr. Bennett) haven’t even seen the original letter?

  5. George Rhynes

    Thanks Dr. Noll.
    You have made it crystal clear that citizens are being taken for a blind ride. Patriots like you and others are very much needed today to help complete the work of the founding fathers and mothers of our beloved nation.
    For decades not this community has been operating on an 1860 mentality apparently taken from the old Valdosta City Charter that was removed in early 2004 because I requested that it be removed from Valdosta City Hall.
    After much controversy from Mayor John Fretti and some council members they relunctantly remove this disgraceful charter from the wall in City Hall. However, it is becoming clear that it remains in the hearts of some elected officials in our beloved community.
    Originally the words in the following charter applied to Blacks but now are being applied to White Folks also. Often without them ever realizing it until it is too late.
    Please understand our mayor and several council members had no problems with the words contained in this 1860 Valdosta City Charter and this can be documented from past years on my blog under the heading of Valdosta Disgraceful City Charter of 1860.
    Although this charter was removed from Valdosta City Hall. Apparently it remains in the hearts of some remaining people in our community. Therefore our community cannot move forward until these issues are exposed and so new life can be brought in to serve all citizens equally.
    Therefore, we must overstand what others understand by continuing to work as never before to help save our world from today’s patriots and christians with limited and distorted visions. Moreover we must understand that in the end we will win. Then our children will rejoice knowing that we stood strong so they could have a future among the brotherhood and sisterhood of all mankind!
    We are not who we claim to be, but who we prove ourselves to be over a given period of time. South Georgia needs us; even if they don’t overstand it yet!
    Peace, love, and overstanding knowledge always.

  6. Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

    Those are some of the outstanding questions.
    I consider it progress that we (interested parties in the community) at least know more questions to ask, and some of the people involved are talking to the community.
    It’s not clear there ever was a biomass item on the VLCIA agenda (Ashley Paulk told me he wasn’t sure about that). Such an item probably wouldn’t even be required for a board member to make a motion and someone else to second it to require a vote, which would fit with what a couple of the VLCIA board members have said.
    When Jerry Jennett calls me back, I will ask him these and other questions. LAKE (and doubtless other organizations) will also continue to pursue other avenues.
    As George Rhynes (and some of the VLCIA board members have pointed out), people of all economic statuses, black and white, old and young, rich and poor, need to work together to keep our community informed.

  7. Karen Noll

    Thank You, John, for chasing down the facts in this matter so diligently. The conversation continues, which is at least hopeful.

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