LAWRENCEVILLE — Gwinnett officials have been named to a new nonprofit established to improve transparency in the county’s economic development endeavors.
The newly created Partnership Gwinnett Public Funding Entity (PFE) board will meet for the first time Friday, with representation from the government agencies that have contributed over the years to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce-lead effort.
On Tuesday, commissioners approved the naming the Board of Commissioners chairman, county administrator and director of planning and development to the nonprofit board. While the positions are linked to the title, the current holders of those offices are Charlotte Nash, Glenn Stephens and Bryan Lackey, respectively.
“We think that the cooperative approach to economic development efforts, where all the governmental bodies and the business community are working together rather than separately, is the most effective. However, we also believe that we have a responsibility to ensure openness in how public funds are spent,” said Nash, who insisted the nonprofit be formed as part of the county’s agreement to continue funding the effort.
Despite its success in drawing major employers to the community, the Partnership Gwinnett effort came under scrutiny last year because the Chamber of Commerce entered into a public campaign to promote a proposed transportation tax. Because the business organization’s records are not subject to Georgia’s Open Records Law, residents questioned if government funding was used for the campaign.
Nick Masino, the Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president in charge of the economic development effort, said the nonprofit board will provide a budget and audit, both available to the public, to show how the funding given from local cities, the school board and three Community Improvement Districts is spent.
Masino is a non-voting member of the board, along with the Chamber’s chief financial officer and the chairman of the overall Partnership Gwinnett board. Other voting members include the chief financial officer of Gwinnett County Public Schools (currently Rick Cost), the executive director of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau (Lisa Anders), the vice president of the Gwinnett Municipal Association, an organization of the county’s local cities (Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette), and a representative from the CIDs (Gwinnett Village’s Chuck Warbington).
“Our goal is to be open, and we want people to know what we are doing,” Masino said of Friday’s open meeting, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce building.
“Setting up a separate non-profit corporation that handles public funds dedicated to Partnership Gwinnett ensures that decision making and records will be open to the public as a matter of course,” Nash said. “Since more than a third of the funds for this non-profit corporation will come from public source, the meetings of its Board of Directors will be subject to the Open Meetings Act, and its records will be governed by the Open Records Act. We see this as the best way to avoid any future dispute about the right of the public to information.”