Where Are Gwinnett’s Leaders?

Who is looking out for the interests of county taxpayers, who give over $1 million per year to the Gwinnett Chamber?


Gwinnett taxpayers give over $1 million per year to the Gwinnett Chamber. In return for the millions of taxpayer dollars given, we were told that the Gwinnett Chamber brought 280 businesses to Gwinnett, created 12,000 jobs, and generated $800 million in economic activity. Where can I get a list of those 280 businesses, the companies that hired the 12,000 employees, and what methodology was used to determine that the Gwinnett Chamber generated $800 million in economic activity? 

The Gwinnett Chamber has a registered lobbyist who regularly lobbies for issues that benefit their members, including the failed TSPLOST referendum. Who lobbies for Gwinnett taxpayers?

The marketing people behind the Untie Atlanta advertising campaign would never be able to figure out how to untie all of the tangled relationships between the Gwinnett Chamber and the elected officials who give them taxpayer money. Can someone please explain why the following relationships should give taxpayers comfort that our leaders are only looking out for our best interests?

  • The school superintendent sits on the chamber board. The school system pays the salaries of chamber employees with tax funds designated for education. The total to date on a no contract, no bid basis? Over $900,000.

  • The chamber CEO sits on the board of the Gwinnett Conventions & Visitors Bureau (GCVB), which gives $100,000 per year to the chamber. The GCVB CEO sits on the board of the chamber. A county commissioner sits on the board of the GCVB.

  • The county commission gives $500,000 per year to the chamber, and the commission chairman sits on the chamber board.

These are just a few examples of the tangled relationships. There are many more…

I have been asking questions since February. I haven’t received any answers; only comments such as, “We’ll work on it,” “We’ll look into it,” “We’ll get back to you," “Thanks for asking,” and, “Those are good questions.”

If those are good questions, why are there no good answers?

What is the most politically influential group in Gwinnett County? The Gwinnett Chamber. Who among our political leaders is holding the Gwinnett Chamber accountable to the taxpayers? No one. Where are Gwinnett’s leaders? Nowhere to be found. The silence is deafening.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jimmy Orr August 07, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Good question, Sabrina. Maybe they (leaders) are over on Sugarloaf Parkway. At least that's where it appears the county seat is.
Sabrina Smith August 07, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Hi Jimmy: I thought you would enjoy the email I received from Gwinnett County Public Schools this afternoon. I asked how they determined that they received $6 million in return for paying the salaries of Gwinnett Chamber employees, as they had said in a press statement. The response said, in part: "Other than what was provided in the district's statement I do not have any additional information on this topic."
LEE BAKER August 08, 2012 at 12:24 AM
The Good Ol' Boy network in Gwinnett is alive and doing business as it has for years in the county, knowing how to manipulate the system to do what they want, when they want. Good for Sabrina to call their hand and ask for accountability.
Jen Falk August 08, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Transparency and accountability from elected officials should be a given. Unfortunately, they are qualities that are in short supply among our school board members. Our teachers are overburdened, our school board members are silent, and our Superintendent sends $900,000 to the Chamber. It does not have to be this way. Our kids deserve - we deserve - so much more.
Truth in Disclosure August 08, 2012 at 04:56 AM
The leadership appears to be in the chamber's pocket! So, how are all the players related? And as one of the citizens who's funding this old boy network, where's my vote on chamber matters?!?! I don't recall electing anyone in the chamber, but I do know of a commissioner election going on.
L.Vlad August 08, 2012 at 12:25 PM
The school board should not be able to give taxpayers money for education to Gwinnett Chamber. Any smart business person would want something in return for this "gift" and the fact that they cannot account for the companies and jobs created says it all.
Annette Rogers August 08, 2012 at 12:55 PM
As a tax payer I am concerned and would like to see answers. However, if I was a GCPS employee I'd be outraged. GCPS staff in our schools and at the ISC are doing more with less than ever before. Each could argue how an extra salary could best be used to directly improve the education of our children. What could a school have done with $900,000? What could Ivy Prep have done?
Jimmy Orr August 08, 2012 at 02:37 PM
On second thought, What Leaders? Doug Heckman, where are you when your county needs you?
David Hancock August 08, 2012 at 08:04 PM
The more I read about this the more I wonder how many of the economic numbers we see in the Chamber reports were just made up by chamber personell and have been quoted by others as fact. My guess is that they assumed nobody would come along and ask for backup.
Jimmy Orr August 08, 2012 at 09:15 PM
David, I believe you have pegged it correctly. The chamber probably never expected anyone from amomg the rank & file to come along and ask for supporting documentation.
Bev Lougher August 08, 2012 at 10:14 PM
The Gwinnett taxpayers would like a reponse from the Chamber on this issue. It is not too much to ask from the Chamber to back up their promotional data with the names of companies they brought in that added all those jobs and the revenue infusion into Gwinnett County. Surely they can readily provide the names of all these companies or they would not be using this in their marketing promos. Right?
Producermom August 09, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Every time I read an article like this - and they are becoming more frequent, i am dumbfounded at the arrogance of these county agencies. They must think we’re pretty stupid or simply don’t care. Hopefully this and more articles like Ms. Smith’s will bring pressure for answers - for the truth in the midst of the wheeling and dealing that’a become the norm of Gwinnett county.
Amy Fuchs August 11, 2012 at 12:31 AM
As my child crams into an even more crowded classroom this week I wonder how did funds go for Chamber Salaries and not Teacher Salaries. As I read these articles I hear Gwinnett saying this is a great investment. If it is such a great investment then be upfront, be accountable and be responsible with our children’s education funds. Show us how this investment paid off Show us where in the budget these salaries are disclosed, don’t hide it I asked Mr. Cost where this line item was in the budget. He kindly responded to me. It is : Reporting department - Financial Services (300002-9990) on page 648. Here is the link if you want to look it up yourself: http://votejenfalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/General-Fund-Budget-Book-FY2013.pdf Continued on Next Comment ... Keep Reading ... This is Good Stuff....
Amy Fuchs August 11, 2012 at 12:33 AM
This is hardly transparent: Page 648, item 3000002-9990 reads like this: FY2012 FY2013 FY2013 Financial Services actual proposed Supt. Recommended (3000002-9990-NA) $258,771 $245,687 $245,687 Description: Banking fees and services for central office and local schools (includes investment advisor) ________________________________________________________________ It is my opinion that this budget should be transparent and honest. If it is a great idea then disclose it. If it isn’t a great idea then get rid of it. We are in a fiscal CRISIS. Our kids deserve good schools and good teachers. Our class sizes should NOT have increased by an avg. of 2 per class. The Chamber Salary could put 2 or 3 teachers back in the classroom. Look at the budget … there are plenty of places to choose our kids over bureaucracy. Give our kids the best schools in Georgia. Great Schools will attract many from other counties. People will move to Gwinnett in droves if we give our kids the education they deserve. Our empty homes will sell, our tax digest will increase and good things will follow.
Sabrina Smith August 11, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Hi Amy: Thank you for your detailed posting. Because my organization advocates for openness and transparency in government, you show exactly why this issue raised so many red flags for us when we first started to inquire about it. I have to admit that I am surprised that GCPS believes that they can just ignore this and it will go away. My organization and the others in our coalition intend to continue to work on this until we get satisfactory answers.
STEVE RAMEY August 11, 2012 at 03:20 AM
The truth Producermom is not that we are stupid but apathetic. Most of the citizizens in Gwinnett race home from work and get their news from Entertainment Tonight. It is easier to ignore the problems than to expend the energy to fix the wrongs. Some like Sabrina work tirelessly to expose these cons for what they are. So far there is not enough light shining on the cockroaches to make them run back into the cracks where they belong. Speak with your friends and neighbors and let's join together to take back control of our county.
STEVE RAMEY August 11, 2012 at 03:37 AM
What makes this even a sadder story is it probably happens in almost every county in Georgia and the nation. We have some of the brightest students around but our graduation rate is atrocious. We keep hearing Gwinnett Schools are number one...I don't think so. Even if they were, the state of Georgia normally ranks 49th or 50th in the nation. At the highest level that must make us the best of the worst?
Amy Fuchs August 11, 2012 at 08:07 AM
I agree we need to get involved. Some easy things we can do is email our school board Myschoolboard@gwinnett.k12.ga.us and let them know you care, you are watching and share your thoughts. You can also check out VOTEJENFALK.COM. Jen Falk is running for school board in my district and part of her platform is Transparency and Accountability. I will vote for her in November and you can too! One more thing we need to do is show up at Board Meetings and make our concerns heard. http://www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us/gcps-mainweb01.nsf/pages/BoardofEducation. You can go here for a list of meetings. I do all these things..... These are easy things we can all do to help our children. Pass on this info to your friends, family and neighbors!
Jimmy Orr August 11, 2012 at 12:10 PM
@ Amy & Steve: Amy, your posts are par excellent. Amy it does appear that GCPS is not practicing transparency when it comes to being open with the two paid C of C salary positions. I think any taxpayer, especially those with a child in Gwinnett County Public Schools, is entitled to know what are the benefits to the costs of these two salaried positions. Steve, I read with interest your post about we keep hearing about Gwinnett schools being #1 but that the State of Georgia ranks 49th. or 50th. in the nation. This is pathetic. I believe our Gwinnett County schools are good schools. I feel compassion for our dedicted teachers and administrators who are having to bear the brunt of the apparent lack of transparency at the top. Hang tough teachers. We appreciate you, we love you, and we need you.
North Georgia Weather August 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM
We can get 3 teachers for around $180,000, as per our title I budget.
John Cook August 11, 2012 at 04:11 PM
This smells rotten. In January I read an article in Atlanta Business Chronicle regarding School system donations to Progress Gwinnett. I telephoned the School System with questions. I was referred to Laura Nurse in Public Information. She said she was unaware that payments were made to Partnership Gwinnett, or of their relationship with the school system. She said she would get back to me. They circled the wagons. Instead of a return call from Laura Nurse, I received a phone call Jan. 31 from Rick Cost, CFO. Rick Cost told me that the School System sponsors two Business Development positions for Partnership Gwinnett. The amount varies from year to year and includes salaries and benefits for the two employees. Currently the amount is between $150,000 & $151,000. I asked what benefit the students receive from the donation to Partnership Gwinnett. He claimed Partnership Gwinnett Business Development procured $800Million in new capital development in Gwinnett County resulting in approximately $6Million in new tax revenue to the school system—and the students and taxpayers benefit from that revenue. He alleged that the school system does not have to increase property taxes to make up the shortfall. I asked if it was proper for the school system to take money by force from taxpayers (who are hurting financially) in order to donate to non-school entities, since the public believes the money is for benefit of the students. He said the extra revenue exceeds the outlay.
John Cook August 11, 2012 at 04:34 PM
We don’t have the money for teacher cost of living increases, or to staff police precincts and fire stations that have already been built by SPLOST money, but we do have a half-million dollars of County taxpayer money to spend on advertising to promote passage of additional SPLOST referendums, and another $150,000+ per year from the school system annual budget. It seems just slightly more insulting that they try to hide the advertising dollars in this manner. It is illegal for government entities to advertise in favor of a referendum from which they will receive revenue, so they launder the money through Progress Gwinnett, and the Progress Gwinnett employees advocate in favor of the SPLOST referendums. The Chamber is an organization of businesses that develop business climate within the community. I cannot believe that they would not carry on this purpose without the forced donations from taxpayers. I also find it impossible to believe that the Chamber is uniquely responsible for every commercial building built within the County since the inception of Progress Gwinnett. That seems to be an exaggerated lie. Their claim seems to be based on the idea that because they exist, full credit belongs exclusively to them. This is a logical falacy!
Amy Fuchs August 11, 2012 at 05:00 PM
John Cook - If that budget is more detailed than the 990 page budget I am currently reviewing then I want to see it - really I want a copy of it. Connect with me on linked in. This is good stuff.... And I have more hidden gems from the budget .... Just not sure how to proceed. Amy Weiss-Fuchs
John Cook August 11, 2012 at 05:17 PM
(Continued from previous post) I asked Mr. Cost whether it was proper for the school system to take money by force from taxpayers (who are hurting financially) in order to donate to non-school entities, when the public believes the money is for the benefit of the students. He said the benefit in extra revenue exceeds the outlay. I asked why the donation cannot be found in the online budget. He stated that the size of the budget prohibits them from itemizing by line in public releases, but the budget is available for inspection at their offices. I asked why they do not make the budget available online, rather than a public summary of the budget. The recent land purchases did not create a lot of confidence in the school system, since they chose to hire their own investigator who conducted a superficial investigation by only talking to less than ten percent of those involved with the land deals. The investigator did not have subpoena powers. The school system chose the private investigator rather than the D.A. or a Grand Jury which would have subpoena powers. Combined with us finding out about this hidden expenditure through news sources, the school system is not creating public confidence. It seems that they would want openness by putting the budget online for all to see. He said the budget can be seen in their office. I asked how we could change their policies—by replacing all of the elected school board officials? He said that option is available to the public.
John Cook August 11, 2012 at 05:30 PM
On January 31, I also asked Rick Cost if the school system refused to contribute to Partnership Gwinnett, if he didn’t think the business community would make up money for the positions at Partnership Gwinnett. He said I could argue the point if I wanted, but others would differ. I asked whether the businesses would have built buildings whether the school system gave away taxpayer money; and received similar response. The argument that the additional revenue could only be achieved through the contribution of the school board is a logical fallacy. Any public relations firm could contact a business considering expansion, and make a similar claim that they are to be credited with the capital expenditure resulting from the new building. That assertion excludes many other factors involved in the decision of a business to build a new facility. Similar outlandish claims were made regarding the potential revenue of the Gwinnett Braves stadium and the vast sums of tax revenue for the County. The claims made by those associated with the Chamber of Commerce and Progress Gwinnett were overstated. Claiming that their efforts alone are responsible for the entire $800Million in capital development is similarly an overstatement. Please read regarding the struggle of others who have attempted to obtain answers on how Progress Gwinnett spent taxes and whether public funds were used for illegal lobbying and advocacy of policy: http://www.gwinnettpetition.com/About_Us.html
Jim Regan August 12, 2012 at 03:00 AM
The only explanation for this is that Gwinnett Public Schools and their leadership have lost sight of their mission, which is to provide the best education possible to children of Gwinnett County. Their explanation that they get a good return for the investment it totally unacceptable.


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