Reichert, drone company met secretly for months

maconbib

Mayor Robert Reichert and Olaeris officials negotiated secretly for at least nine months about the company’s $5.7 million emergency-response drones proposal and discussed ways to keep the plan under wraps until they could round up support from the Macon-Bibb County Commission.

They arranged to keep a meeting with the commission closed to the press and public, in part on grounds that Olaeris’s technology secrets could be exploited by criminals and terrorists.

Those are some of the details contained in hundreds of pages of documents obtained by 13WMAZ under the state’s open-records law.


The plan finally became public last week, one day before Olaeris CEO Ted Lindsley gave a public presentation on his offer to bring a fleet of drone aircraft to Bibb County. He said it would help fight crime and respond to emergencies.

When Olaeris first met with commissioners in March to describe their plan, the commission closed the meeting citing an exemption to the state open-meeting law.

That exemption says a private meeting could be held because it would discuss trade secrets, including information that could compromise “security against terrorist attacks, sabotage, criminal or terroristic acts.” READ THE DOCUMENT

The records show months of emails between Reichert, Lindsley and others about the company’s proposal.

In October 2014, Lindsley pitched his plan to Reichert by email.

He wrote, “What we’re offering is a risk-free proposal with tremendous upside and absolutely no downside.”

Lindsley told Reichert that his company would spend millions locally to prove the value of the drone technology.

“But our investors need a written commitment before they’ll pay for the deal,” he wrote.

That led to a meeting in November at the Eastman aviation campus of Middle Georgia State College.

Also present was college president Christopher Blake and a representative of Timco, a Macon-based aviation company that, according to Lindsley, would produce the drones locally.

Reichert and Lindsley discussed the plan with county commissioners and other public officials on March 24, in a teleconference at the county’s underground emergency-management bunker.

The meeting was closed at Lindsley’s request.

The emails show that Reichert asked county attorneys to find a legal reason to close that meeting.

“What do you think about discussing in executive session?” Reichert asked county attorney Judd Drake. “I’m not sure there is an exemption that this would fit under.”

Senior assistant county attorney, Crystal Jones, suggested several possible reasons, including the trade-secret exemption in state law. She suggested that Lindsley file an affidavit stating he planned to reveal trade secrets during the meeting.

Those secrets, Lindsley wrote, could put the county at risk against “terrorist attacks, sabotage, criminal or terroristic acts.”

According to an email from Reichert, that March meeting led to an “agreement to go forward.”

The emails also show that Lindsley and Reichert wanted to get support from the commission before going public.

In May, Lindsley asked to arrange a conference call with the mayor and others to “formulate a strategy for that meeting to ensure a passing vote.”

The next month, Reichert e-mailed executive officials, saying, “We need to work on commission votes.”

And his spokesman Chris Floore asked for a copy of the contract, so he could poll commissioners before last week’s meeting about whether they supported the plan.

When the plan finally went public last week, the commission’s Public Safety Committee voted 5-0 to endorse it and send it to the full commission.

But public opinion appeared to turn sharply against the plan as it received more news coverage. 13WMAZ reported on skeptical Facebook comments about the plan’s need, cost, and concerns that drones patrolling Bibb County would be an invasion of privacy.

Mayor Robert Reichert and Olaeris officials negotiated secretly for at least nine months about the company’s $5.7 million emergency-response drones proposal and discussed ways to keep the plan under wraps until they could round up support from the Macon-Bibb County Commission.

They arranged to keep a meeting with the commission closed to the press and public, in part on grounds that Olaeris’s technology secrets could be exploited by criminals and terrorists.

Those are some of the details contained in hundreds of pages of documents obtained by 13WMAZ under the state’s open-records law.

The plan finally became public last week, one day before Olaeris CEO Ted Lindsley gave a public presentation on his offer to bring a fleet of drone aircraft to Bibb County. He said it would help fight crime and respond to emergencies.

When Olaeris first met with commissioners in March to describe their plan, the commission closed the meeting citing an exemption to the state open-meeting law.

That exemption says a private meeting could be held because it would discuss trade secrets, including information that could compromise “security against terrorist attacks, sabotage, criminal or terroristic acts.” READ THE DOCUMENT

The records show months of emails between Reichert, Lindsley and others about the company’s proposal.

In October 2014, Lindsley pitched his plan to Reichert by email.

He wrote, “What we’re offering is a risk-free proposal with tremendous upside and absolutely no downside.”

Lindsley told Reichert that his company would spend millions locally to prove the value of the drone technology.

“But our investors need a written commitment before they’ll pay for the deal,” he wrote.

That led to a meeting in November at the Eastman aviation campus of Middle Georgia State College.

Also present was college president Christopher Blake and a representative of Timco, a Macon-based aviation company that, according to Lindsley, would produce the drones locally.

Reichert and Lindsley discussed the plan with county commissioners and other public officials on March 24, in a teleconference at the county’s underground emergency-management bunker.

The meeting was closed at Lindsley’s request.

The emails show that Reichert asked county attorneys to find a legal reason to close that meeting.

“What do you think about discussing in executive session?” Reichert asked county attorney Judd Drake. “I’m not sure there is an exemption that this would fit under.”

Senior assistant county attorney, Crystal Jones, suggested several possible reasons, including the trade-secret exemption in state law. She suggested that Lindsley file an affidavit stating he planned to reveal trade secrets during the meeting.

Those secrets, Lindsley wrote, could put the county at risk against “terrorist attacks, sabotage, criminal or terroristic acts.”

According to an email from Reichert, that March meeting led to an “agreement to go forward.”

The emails also show that Lindsley and Reichert wanted to get support from the commission before going public.

In May, Lindsley asked to arrange a conference call with the mayor and others to “formulate a strategy for that meeting to ensure a passing vote.”

The next month, Reichert e-mailed executive officials, saying, “We need to work on commission votes.”

And his spokesman Chris Floore asked for a copy of the contract, so he could poll commissioners before last week’s meeting about whether they supported the plan.

When the plan finally went public last week, the commission’s Public Safety Committee voted 5-0 to endorse it and send it to the full commission.

But public opinion appeared to turn sharply against the plan as it received more news coverage. 13WMAZ reported on skeptical Facebook comments about the plan’s need, cost, and concerns that drones patrolling Bibb County would be an invasion of privacy.

Several commissioners openly questioned the potential cost and expressed privacy concerns about the drones.

On Tuesday, by a 5-3 vote, the full commission put the plan on hold for further discussion and to get new information.

A vote of approval would have given the county attorney authority to draw up a contract with Olaeris, but it would not have committed the county to any payments.

Lindsley’s presentation said Olaeris was “aligned” with the American Civil Liberties Union to show that the drones would not compromise privacy.

But after seeing news reports about Lindsley’s presentation, the national ACLU’s Deputy General Counsel, Eric Vieland, wrote the Mayor and Commission to say “there is no such agreement in place” for the ACLU’s participation. READ THE DOCUMENT

“To my knowledge there has been no discussion” between Olaeris and the ACLU’s national office or its Georgia chapter about the drone proposal, Vieland said.

He said he has demanded that Olaeris stop using the ACLU logo in its marketing materials.

“Olaeris has no license to use our logo,” the ACLU letter said.

http://www.13wmaz.com/story/news/local/macon/2015/07/22/bibb-records-reichert-drone-company-met-secretly-for-months/30514733/