Transparency is necessary

Last year, Fulton County government and the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth agreed to a partnership and restructuring of the CRG. The partnership should aim to restore the public’s trust in the organization, but we’re not seeing that happen.

The agencies the CRG oversees, the county Economic Development Corp. and the Crossroads Incubator Corp., lost public trust more than three years ago when the public found out two of the groups’ executives received about $3 million in bonus money under sketchy circumstances. The scandal shook the county.

Today, the CRG?still lacks transparency, even though the county has formed a partnership with it and is giving it tens of thousands of dollars.

Earlier this year, this newspaper asked for basic information from the CRG in a Freedom of Information Law request. The paper asked for the salaries of all CRG employees, the number of loan pools and the amount of money in each loan pool, a copy of the CRG’s 2013 budget, a list of active loans, a list of 2012 expenses related to the Estee Commons apartment complex, the amount of revenue generated from rents for Estee Commons, the number of available apartments at Estee Commons and the number occupied, and rent packages available there. The CRG ignored that request.

The paper then submitted the same request to Fulton County government, which has two county supervisors – Greg Fagan and Michael Ponticello – sitting on the CRG board and contributed $75,000 for an annual CRG marketing agreement and $40,000 for CRG legal expenses this year. The county, in a response to the newspaper’s request, stated, “The county has records relating to four of the eight different types of records you requested.” The county provided the CRG budget and a list of active loans.

Apparently, even though county government has two supervisors sitting on the CRG board, it has no access to some crucial information about the organization.

Meanwhile, the state Authorities Budget Office recently announced it censured the boards of directors of the CRG and EDC for “persistent failure to comply with state law.”

In particular, the ABO says the agencies must be more public with their records. The ABO has long contended the CRG and EDC are public agencies, while the agencies themselves claim they are private.

If the CRG refuses to follow state law and be transparent, county government should provide no public funding to the organization and should remove elected supervisors from the CRG board.