Originally created 03/03/05

Publishers deny need for secrecy legislation



ATLANTA - Publishers and the state's leading industry recruiter couldn't agree Wednesday on whether negotiations with employers should be kept from the public.

The 45-minute meeting organized by Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson was an attempt to find common ground on House Bill 218, which would permit secret dealings with companies asking the state for concessions from taxpayers in exchange for building a plant in Georgia.

The bill sailed through the House but was tabled in the Senate last month when it became apparent there weren't enough votes for passage.

The publishers, all leaders of the Georgia Press Association, said they didn't believe there was a big problem of companies refusing to consider moving to Georgia simply because negotiations have to be open to public inspection.

"If it's the best place to do business, then it's the best place to do business," association President Sam Jones said after the meeting. He is the publisher of the Newnan Times-Herald.

Mr. Johnson agreed to hold up a vote on the bill but refused the publishers' request to wait until next year.

"I'm agreeing to continue the dialogue," said Mr. Johnson, R-Savannah.

The bill is needed, Economic Development Commissioner Craig Lesser said, because consultants who advise large companies on where to locate their factories insist on it. Many don't even consider Georgia for certain types of employers because of the openness of the law, he said.

"They don't want to have these negotiations on the front page of the newspaper," he said.

Otis Brumby, publisher of the Marietta Daily Journal, said public scrutiny is the price for the generous concessions companies seek from taxpayers.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.