Column: Gov. Deal taps Ga. Power’s Paul Bowers for water talks

By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 4, 2011

Up until the last days of his administration, former Gov. Sonny Perdue had hoped to reach an agreement between Georgia and Alabama on their water disputes.

Assisting the governor in that effort was Michael Garrett, president and CEO of Georgia Power Co. Garrett, with deep ties in Alabama, had been asked to “quarterback” those negotiations and keep them on track.

Then Garrett retired at the end of last year, and Perdue left office in early January. But Gov. Nathan Deal wants to make sure those negotiations don’t lose any momentum. On Jan. 31, Deal invited Garrett’s successor — Paul Bowers —to meet with him in the governor’s office.

“We’ve asked Paul Bowers if he would assume that same position as a behind-the-scenes consultant for us,” Deal said. “He will fill that same slot [as Garrett].”
Deal said he already has had a conversation with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, and the two have agreed to keep talking.

A water allocation agreement must include three states — Georgia, Alabama and Florida. But the common assumption is that if Georgia and Alabama reach an agreement, it will be easier to get Florida on board.

“Everything right now is in the hands of the negotiating team,” Deal said. “That’s still in place.”

Deal also said that he has added Allen Barnes, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, to the negotiating team.

Bowers said that resolving Georgia’s water dispute with Alabama “is an important issue for the state,” and that he is willing to do whatever he can.

“I’m honored to have been asked to help,” Bowers said. “I will add value wherever I can, recognizing that I’m a new player in the state of Georgia.”

But Bowers, who has spent seven years of his career in Alabama, including overseeing its hydropower operations, said he “will draw on the experiences that I’ve had.”

A good indicator about whether an agreement is near will be if the governors of Georgia and Alabama have plans to meet in person. “I haven’t got it scheduled yet,” Deal said.

Rice gets warm send-off

The Atlanta business community gave John Rice, vice chairman of General Electric Co., a warm send-off Jan. 30 at a reception at the High Museum of Art.
Rice, who has been an active civic leader in Atlanta, is leaving the city to take on a major international role with GE in Hong Kong.

Rice chaired the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and he became particularly engaged in the city’s and state’s education issues. He was the founding chairman of the Atlanta Education Fund, which helps provide business community support for the Atlanta Public Schools.

GE actually has contributed $22 million to APS to help in its reform efforts, and the company developed a close association with the Maynard H. Holbrook Jackson High School.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed thanked Rice for his civic work, saying it was always about the children of the city. He recalled seeing Rice sitting patiently to speak at an Atlanta school board meeting, showing his willingness to be engaged.

In his comments to the group of dignitaries, Rice made a point to single out APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, saying she was “a woman who has spent 12 years of her life giving her life and soul for the Atlanta Public Schools.”

Despite the controversies that have plagued APS in the past year, Rice said “we owe Beverly Hall our thanks and every ounce of our support for as long as she’s doing the job here.”

Rice also spoke about his special feelings for Atlanta.

“You realize early on that this is a great place because people care,” Rice said. “It’s this kind of leadership, having a mayor like his predecessor, who is willing to take on the tough issues,” such as pensions or sewers.

“It’s been the most rewarding 10 years of my life,” Rice added about his time in the city, adding that it was here where he “found” his wife, Cammie. “We will move on to Hong Kong for a period of time, but we will always consider Atlanta our home. … We really care about this place, and that won’t change because our ZIP code has changed.”

Economic ed grant

The Georgia Council for Economic Education has received a major three-year, $450,000 grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation as part of the organization’s three-year support campaign.

David Martin, executive director of the council, said the grant would go toward developing new programs and materials, increasing capacity within its statewide network of university-based Centers for Economic Education, and helping the organization to measure its effectiveness.

Russ Hardin, president of the Woodruff Foundation, said the organization has done a “great job,” and that Georgia is one of only 17 states that has economics in its public curriculum.

Martin said the organization will hold its annual Stock Market Games Awards luncheon on May 3 and hold its annual meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta on May 16. At that time, Gary Price of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP will become chairman of the council.

Earth Day breakfast

EarthShare of Georgia will hold its annual Earth Day Leadership breakfast meeting on April 20 at the Georgia Aquarium, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente.

The keynote speaker will be Rhett Turner, a filmmaker who is president of Red Sky Productions, an international film production company that focuses on documentaries.

Turner’s most recent project was a documentary — “Chattahoochee: From Water War to Water Vision” — which highlighted the 20-year conflict between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over water.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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