Why does the Town of Gadsden keep all conversations, proposals, associations or communications associated with the possibility of locating a Pilgrim’s Pride rendering plant at the Northeastern Alabama Regional Airport in the utmost secrecy?
One would think, as Sir Winston Churchill put it in the book “Bodyguard of Lies”, that “the truth is so precious, it must be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies”. But Churchill was talking about covert operations designed to defeat Nazism and Adolf Hitler. For heaven’s sake, we’re talking about a heinous animal parts rendering plant.
There are so many elements of municipal government complicit in this obsession with secrecy that it’s hard to know where to start a decent conversation about the situation.
Let’s start with the Gadsden Airport Authority. I don’t know why the GAA bother to call a public meeting, because it immediately goes into executive session. This is backstage politics at its worst. Of course, there are reasons to have executive sessions, but not on the discussions surrounding the sale of the airport property to Pilgrim’s Pride for the rendering plant.
Secrecy is appropriate when discussing prices and property values, but these prices have already been disclosed to the general public. It is also appropriate when it comes to personnel, for obvious reasons. Litigation is another relevant topic for the executive session and should be dealt with accordingly.
Last week, the GAA turned down the opportunity to speak to John Weller, a wildlife biologist with the Federal Aviation Administration. According to sources, Weller had requested to speak to the GAA from Washington, DC, but since he was not on the agenda, he was not allowed to speak.
According to people who later spoke to Weller, he wanted to clarify the FAA’s position on “approval” of the rendering plant, which the agency continues to stress has not yet happened.
The GAA agenda is a guideline, not a concrete parameter to follow, and the president of the authority has the capacity to intervene on relevant topics. Actions like this are the reason why residents of Gadsden and Etowah County are extremely suspicious of city-appointed officials. If I had been on the GAA board of directors, I would have jumped at the opportunity to speak directly with a senior FAA official.
The secrecy surrounding the GAA is only surpassed by that surrounding the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority. I was reminded that the IDA claims to be a private entity and not subject to open disclosures. Here again, what is the issue that must be closed around the activities of this industrial development organization? I’ve been on research committees for industrial sites, multi-million dollar sites, and I’ve never seen the obstruction that characterizes the Gadsden-Etowah IDA.
While it is true that the city has no control over IDA, where does IDA get its money to operate? If it is true that the city has no control over the IDA, this setting should be changed immediately.
The director of IDA occupies a formidable and important position in the landscape of Gadsden. The director should be accountable to someone in the city government and be accountable to the taxpayers in Gadsden County and Etowah who pay him his salary. Instead, we have this underground organization which, even though it has a board of directors, actually seems to be self-sufficient and accountable to no one.
Now the city is offering to spend $ 1.75 million at The Venue at Coosa Landing on a project that would include offices for IDA, an entity over which it has no control. Why not provide office space for authority at City Hall, which in my opinion is severely underutilized, instead of wasting close to $ 2 million at The Venue?
If honoring a legitimate claim by a lawyer representing thousands of residents of Gadsden County and Etowah is any measure, then the city is failing miserably.
The city’s first document request was filed on February 10, 2021. A subsequent amended motion for a writ of mandamus and declaratory judgment complaint naming the Gadsden Airport Authority and Northeast Alabama Regional Aviation was recently filed.
The response to both petitions has been negligible. What is the city trying to hide? Does he not trust his citizens to make good decisions when they are informed?
The people of Gadsden and Etowah County are more knowledgeable and educated about the pros and cons of a rendering plant than they are possibly any contemporary problem. The city should provide all responses regarding GAA and Pilgrim’s Pride freely and openly. This shroud of secrecy should be pierced and then, and only then, confidence in the city government can be restored.
John F. Floyd is a native of Gadsden who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He was previously UK Manufacturing Manager, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Vice President Manufacturing and International Operations , General Tire & Rubber Co., and Manufacturing Manager, Chrysler Corp. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.