Earlier this year a new politically powerful organization was established on the Coast to replace what was Coast 21, which was another politically-connected organization that worked largely behind the scenes to direct and influence public policies on the Coast.
The new group, called the Gulf Coast Business Council was established just this past March, but its members are many of the same people as before and you can expect this group to be more visible in the future as the Coast develops. The new group has the same mission, to direct and influence the way the Coast develops and to influence public policy, that specifically means, directing elected officials. The group has the clout to do that as its members are among some of the Coast's largest businesses, but not all.
Just like Coast 21, the Gulf Coast Business Council is an exclusive club. Membership is by invitation only. While such organizations of influence are not uncommon around the country, even at the national level, they often are criticized for attempting to maneuver public public opinion through networks they control, such as area news media and television, to gain support for their vision of what is best for an area, or on an issue of public concern. But they also gain access to public officials that regular citizens do not have. Nor are their meetings and activities routinely open to the media. And their financial clout and news media influence gives them an edge that opponents do not have.
Already, members of the Gulf Coast Business Council have been at work. Several members are key players in the Coast's Katrina recovery and have worked closely with Governor Haley Barbour's Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal and with the charrette activities held since the hurricane.
According to a WLOX news report June 13, the Gulf Coast Business Council has about 130 members from all three coastal counties. It will temporarily set up an office in the Harrah's building on Seaway Road. And it will share that office space with groups like the Coast Chamber, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and the United Way.
According to the council’s charter on file with the Mississippi Secretary of State, the organization is a non profit corporation created March 23, 2006, whose purpose is stated in the charter as follows:
“The Corporation is a voluntary, nonprofit alliance of the top leaders of the Chambers of Commerce, economic development organizations and businesses and industries of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties who are invited and choose to participate. The Corporation is organized to address the common economic and business interests of the Mississippi Gulf Coast by identifying issues, convening resources, framing public policy, finding solution, and working to improve the business environment and promote the economic growth and development in all of the counties on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In furtherance of such purposes, the Corporation is organized and will be operated primarily to engage in any activity permissible to an organization exempt from federal income tax under Section 501 (c)(6) of the Code or the corresponding provision of any subsequent federal tax law." – From the Incorporation documents filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State.
The Board of Directors at time of incorporation are listed below:
Charles Benvenutti – CPA, Hancock County
Mark Cumbest – Realtor
David Dennis – Builder, President of Specialty Contractors & Associates
Roland Kell – General Manager Chevron Pascagoula
Ricky Mathews – Sun Herald Publisher
Duncan McKenzie – Regional Vice President of the Isle of Capri Casinos
Patricia Nichols – DuPont DeLisle Plant Manager (correction-GCN)
Jon Ritten – Hancock County real estate broker
George Schloegel – Hancock Bank president
Jerry St. Pe – Jackson County Chamber and Chairman of the Mississippi Gaming Commission
Chevis Swetman – People’s Bank President
Phillip Teel – VP of Northrop Grumman
Anthony Topanzi – Mississippi Power President
David Treutel Jr. – Independent Insurance Agent in Bay St. Louis
John Walton – Whitney National Bank
Roland Weeks – Retired Sun Herald Publisher
The incorporators of the Gulf Coast Business Council were:
Anthony Topanzi – Mississippi Power
Chevis Swetman – People’s Bank
More Information: Updated Links - 2/4/08
Gulf Coast Business Council Spins Katrina Recovery - GCN Special Report
Gulf Coast Business Council Applauds Itself: Touts Accomplishments - GCN Special Report
Revealing the Invisible Government - GCN Special Report