The purpose of the meetings is simple: As the new leader of the Chamber, David has an obligation to reach out to the county's influencers and decision-makers. It's part of his job. Yet beyond that, the Chamber itself should be an honest broker in the county, one who facilitates difficult conversations and encourages dialogue on what's best for the county. Again, that's David's job.
The newspaper, too, has a job to do, and we at the Chamber have nothing but the utmost respect for the Marietta Daily Journal's commitment to serving Cobb's citizens as the public's watchdog on open meetings and open records by our public officials. The new leadership at the Chamber believes this is an important role to play and, ultimately, makes the community and our public bodies more honest, efficient and effective.
But to insinuate that David's meetings with school board members violate the spirit of the Open Meetings Law is unfair. The First Amendment also provides the rights for any organization - here, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce - to meet with elected officials and advocate for public policy. Advocating on behalf of the business community is one of three core elements of the Chamber's mission that also includes economic development and providing quality services to our members.
Meetings with school board members are part of numerous efforts to build relationships with city, county, state and federal elected officials. These meetings provided the opportunity for David to both build relationships and offer the support of the business community.
It's natural that conversations with school board members would turn to the ongoing school board conflict that has initiated a grand jury investigation and SACS inquiry. It is also natural for the Chamber's leadership to take a proactive role, offering whatever assistance possible to ensure Cobb County's educational reputation remains one of the best not only in the state, but the nation.
David and his staff never attempted to keep these meetings secret. When questioned by a Marietta Daily Journal reporter, the Chamber staff willingly shared information that included David's own calendar, which is not subject to Open Records law. David is committed to being a trusted resource for the media, responsive to media requests in a timely manner. For example, the Chamber's leadership and staff have gone out of their way in recent months to respond accurately and quickly to every request by the Marietta Daily Journal, including sharing important information to keep the newspaper informed on the Chamber's goals and activities.
David speaks on behalf of the Cobb Chamber business membership community, which is made up of more than 2,400 businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in Cobb County. While the Chamber's membership is predominately Cobb-based businesses, it is increasingly populated with firms from across the region as Cobb County and the Chamber's influence grows. What is good - or bad - for Cobb County has impact on the region. At the Chamber, it's our job to advocate on behalf of the business community to make Cobb County, and by default the rest of the region, the best, most competitive community it can be.
We will continue to encourage all parties to have an open, transparent dialogue on one of the most critical issues we face as a community today: The education of the children of Cobb County.
Rob Garcia is the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Bank of North Georgia, a division of Synovus Bank, and the 2011 Chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.