Chamber president defends role in CRCT investigation

7:25 PM, Jul 22, 2011   |    comments
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Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce president Sam Williams

ATLANTA -- A number of of accusations have flown around since the state investigation of cheating in Atlanta's schools was released.

Perhaps none has been more vague than the role of Atlanta's business community in "finessing" the Blue Ribbon Commission report that preceded the investigators' inquiry.

Since then, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce president Sam Williams has found himself in the crosshairs of state senators and taxpayer groups alike.

"To suggest that somehow the Metro Chamber controlled, manipulated, or covered up something is just not fact," said Williams.

Critics of Williams and the Chamber of Commerce say a Blue Ribbon Commission report by business leaders downplayed the cheating scandal.

Investigators for the governor's office said, "The possibility of a negative reflection on the Atlanta brand caused some to protect Dr. Hall and attack the messengers. Image was more important that the truth."

Fort said he wants Williams to resign.

"I think the Chamber of Commerce has a direct culpability in this situation and, therefore, I am calling on Sam Williams to step down," Fort said.

Williams says no way.

Fort and another critic, John Sherman, president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, cite an email in the governor's report sent by a Chamber executive saying that the Blue Ribbon Commission report, which preceded the governor's Task Force investigation, should be "finessed" past the governor.

"This effort was unsuccessful and went and somewhere in the process the truth got lost and so did the children," the governor's report said.

"That email was taken totally out of context," Williams said. "One message out of thousands of emails -- that was an attempt by one of our staff members to tell the BRC that they needed to talk to the governor's staff. You can't finesse something past a governor. Come on -- let's get real."

Williams strongly defended the commission, which is made up of
business executives with two chamber support people.

The governor's investigators said, "Dr. Hall proclaimed a 'vindication' after the BRC Report was issued."

"To not have any kind of legal powers or subpoena power or the GBI, they found over 100 people that they suggested be further investigated," Williams said. "If anything the business community was duped in this like all of us were. We were operating on the best information we had."

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