EDC unveils plan to increase transparency

Elected officials may sign nondisclosure agreement
Jul. 19, 2013 @ 09:57 AM

The Davidson County Economic Commission is taking steps to create a culture of openness.

EDC Board chairman Tommy Hedrick and Executive Director Steve Googe were candid in their intent to better serve the needs of the community and the media. The two men reached out to the press July 9 and invited several reporters to attend the EDC's monthly meeting at Davidson County Community College.

"This Board wants to put forth a company to produce jobs we want, jobs we need," Hedrick said. "We need an industrial park. We desperately need this to happen for the people of the county. We need your help."

The EDC is Davidson County's authority on business relocation and expansion. It hosts tours and supplies extensive information to interested companies with the intent of creating jobs.

Recently, Googe has reached out to county commissioners for support to pursue an industrial park in central Davidson County. This request, as well as several of its other recent projects, has drawn criticism because of their secretive nature. Commissioner Todd Yates is among the most outspoken critics who said he will not vote for any more incentives packages without knowing the name of a company.

A pair of projects in particular have been the subject of inquiry. Project Hem and Project Z13 are incentives for two companies which are expected to bring 40 jobs and $4.5 million to invest in the area. Googe acknowledged that some requests are not specific; however, there is a danger in announcing too much information too quickly, even to governing bodies.

Googe highlighted projects that fell through in years past due to what he attributed to a breach of confidentiality. In one case, an elected official revealed specifics to a television station before all hurdles had been completed. The company opted not to continue with negotiations.

However, during the meeting, Googe affirmed his intent to remain within the General Statute of when to release the name of a company.

According to the N.C. Press Association in an opinion written by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, “Generally, these records are public unless disclosure would frustrate the purpose for which the records were created.”

Disclosure must be made under this circumstance: “Once a business has selected a specific location to locate or expand in the state, local government must disclose the relevant public records.”

Googe added another scenario to which local governments are bound:

"Project Hem and others are announced as soon as possible — noting that announcing a project before the governor does, if state incentives are involved, jeopardizes the state’s incentive — after a commitment from the company is made," he said.

Googe described the nature of economic development as intensely competitive between Davidson and other locales.

To create better transparency, Google said his office may ask elected officials to sign nondisclosure agreements, create a website and utilize social media such as a Twitter feed. Board meetings will continue to be open to media personnel and the public.

"It’s definitely a step in the right direction," said Yates. "It’s more than we had three months ago. Transparency is encouraging; let’s see how it all works out."

Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or kennedy@tvilletimes.com.