OUR VIEW: New nonprofit board right step for Partnership Gwinnett

As meetings go, Friday’s inagural session of the newly created Partnership Gwinnett Public Funding Entity (PFE) was nondescript. Decisions on how public funding will be used for economic development were tabled, but moving forward any decisions the group makes will be a matter of public record.

Which is why the meeting was important. The creation of this nonprofit allows for public scrutiny of the government funds given to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce for economic development. And that’s a much needed development.

Partnership Gwinnett has been good for the county, bringing many businesses, including some on the Fortune 500 list, to Gwinett over the years. But the trouble with the organization — which receives funds from the county — is that it previously wasn’t subject to Georgia’s sunshine laws.

For those who wanted to know where the funds came from and how they were used, there was no recourse. No ability to ask for them under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). When that’s the case, it leads to the suspicion of impropriety whether it is present or not.

Which is why the county and Chairman Charlotte Nash made the PFE nonprofit mandatory if it was to continue as a contributor to Partnership Gwinnett.

“That just seemed the logical way to ensure that folks can get access to information they are interested in,” Nash said. “We can’t go back and redo the things that were done in 2007 (when Partnership Gwinnett began), but at least we can set it up so from now on to make it easier to access information.”

Will it be enough to appease critics of the previous Partnership Gwinnett structure? Said Nash: “We’ll have to see how folks respond.”

For Sabrina Smith, the community activist and chairman of Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government, the answer is “no.” She said the PFE is “window dressing” and “a minor step in the right direction.”

The Lawrenceville resident previously filed a lawsuit to see Partnership Gwinnett records after being denied her request under the FOIA. She said she’s unsure how the new nonprofit will work moving forward, but said its creation does not help explain the way Partnership Gwinnett used funds in the past.

“I don’t think it resolves (anything) because they are refusing to answer questions about millions of taxpayers’ dollars that have already been spent by Partnership Gwinnett.”

Nash’s tenure as chairman has been based on reforming the County Commission’s image with transparency a major part of that initiative. She said Partnership Gwinnett was not on her list initially, but that changed because of concerns about how the funds were being used (more than $850,000 are donated annually by local governments.)

This nonprofit accomplishes that. Said Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette, who was elected board chairman of the PFE,: “It’s all about openess and now we have a clear channel for that.”

Obviously, the PFE doesn’t address the past; but we think it’s a major step moving forward.

The unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the Gwinnett Daily Post. Columns, letters to the editor and cartoons reflect the opinions of the individuals who penned them. It is the policy of the Gwinnett Daily Post to correct all errors of fact.