The Wrong Use of Georgia Capitol – Preferential Treatment for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce

The Savannah Morning News and Augusta Chronicle ran stories today about the Georgia Chamber of Commerce gala 100 year birthday held at the State Capitol. The Savannah Morning News headline glared, “Deal bends rules for Ga. Chamber’s gala at the Capitol.”

The Georgia Building Authority rents facilities in the Capitol area for various groups through the year; however, the rules for the Capitol building itself are more stringent. For example if there is an event in the Capitol building, there can be no charges for admission.

This event carried an entrance fee of $150.00 per person. Capitol rules also prohibit serving alcoholic beverages at events in the Capitol. That rule was also waived.

The Governor’s staff justified the waiver by comparing it to many film productions that have paid a rental fee to use the Capitol as a location for filming a movie or TV show. They also noted that the state Treasury Department hosted a dinner for the Mexico Minister of Finance in the Capitol and alcohol was served at that dinner. One other argument was that the funds were used for the Georgia Chamber’s Foundation which funds project for health care and worker development.

If I had been asked for input on the decision before it was made, I would have advised to deny the use of the Capitol building for the gala. Renting the Capitol for a movie or TV filming is not the same as holding an exclusive event requiring payment of admission.

The Georgia Chamber Foundation funds projects for health care and worker development which are admirable programs. There are many organizations in Georgia that fund charitable programs.

I serve on the Board of South Georgia Easter Seals that provides much more in the area of health care for our valuable citizens with developmental disabilities. I would not ask to use the Capitol building for a fundraising event for Easter Seals.

The Governor, his staff, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce itself should have given more thought to hosting the event in the Capitol building. It sends the wrong message about government of the people, for the people and by the people of our state. There are plenty of facilities that could have been used for this event.

When I first read the story, my initial thought was of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple. By no means do I compare our state Capitol to the temple. There is; however, an area of comparison. Jesus said that the activities going on in the temple did not fit its intended purposes.

The Capitol belongs to the people. Our leaders should insist, demand, and preserve the integrity of the symbolism of our Capitol.

The Capitol is a symbol and place where Georgians carry out the business of governing themselves. It is a place that any citizen of any economic, educational, ethnic, religious, or any other status should feel equal opportunity, equal access, and an overwhelming sense of welcome in their taking the time to come.

As fitting and worthy as it may seem for the Georgia Chamber to hold its 100th gala celebration in the Capitol, it was not. Someone from the Governor’s office should have said, “No.” I am disappointed that no one did.Signature - Donald E. Cole

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