The proverb “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck” also applies to government-sponsored economic development agencies pretending to be something else. For instance, the newly created Fulton County Center for Economic Growth that claims to be a private, nonprofit corporation not subject to open meetings laws or other state-required disclosures, but looks for all intents and purposes like the old Fulton County Economic Development Corp. (FEDC), which is subject to them.
At least that’s what the state Authorities Budget Office, created under the 2009 Public Authorities Act to ensure transparency in public authorities, says, and there is strong evidence to support it.
The evidence goes back to the formation, funding and mission of the FEDC and a sister real-estate holding agency. The FEDC was created by the county almost 30 years ago to promote economic development and jobs, using a revolving loan fund started with government money as well as government grants, tax breaks and the like.
But the agencies acted like they were private corporations, with no transparency, which eventually led to the scandal where their executive vice presidents awarded themselves bonuses totaling more than $2 million between 2007 and 2009. Even after that, they refused to accept the Authorities Budget Office’s declaration that they were public authorities, challenging it in court in a case that still hasn’t been resolved.
Now, though, they are trying to repackage themselves under the umbrella of a new entity called the Fulton County Center for Economic Growth. This one was chartered as a private nonprofit with the mission of educating people, other agencies and organizations about jobs and economic development.
If it only did that, we’d agree that it shouldn’t be subject to disclosure laws. But, then, why does it need the other two agencies as subsidiaries, presumably with the same old missions and doing the same old work?
Eventually, the courts or the attorney general or secretary of state may have to settle these issues. But the county Board of Supervisors could do that now by either cutting off the money — if the new entity is truly a private, nonprofit not directly creating jobs, it shouldn’t need it — or insisting on transparency.