Failure To Address Crime
The city commission’s failure to fully staff the Albany Police Department is nonfeasance. Public safety must be the paramount concern for local government. A large number of officers on patrol are recent graduates of the police academy, and most have less than 5 years’ experience. These positions are essential to public safety, as these are the officers who respond to crimes, intervene to protect victims of assault, and arrest offenders. News reports that 26 entry-level positions were vacant in April 2018 and that the department lost 17 officers that same year confirm the city commission has neglected its primary responsibility to the citizens of this community.
Additionally, Albany has, for many years, had a curfew. Sec. 38-7 of the City Code. I question whether this ordinance is being enforced or has been enforced in recent years.
The failure of the city’s leadership to address the documented increase in both violent and property crimes since 2011 is alone sufficient reason to replace those elected officials who have been in office during that period.
Failure To Address Poverty
The measures, if any, implemented by the city commission to address poverty in response to the “Poverty Analysis” generated in 2010 have been woefully inadequate, as the percentage of Albany’s population who live at or below the poverty line has increased to 33.2%, which is more than 2½x the national average. 40% of the families in South Albany and 42.6% of the families in East Albany live below the poverty line, and more than 50% of the children in Albany, under the age of 12, live in poverty.
The rise in poverty levels shadows the region’s economic decline. There are, moreover, factors which must be unique to Albany, as the national poverty rate, which was 15.1% in 2010, had fallen to 12.3% by 2017.
The East Albany Revitalization Plan was approved in November 2017, and the South Albany Revitalization Plan was approved in April 2019. These plans will not be implemented, and these two sections of the city will continue to decline, unless there is a change in leadership.
Failure To Recognize And Confront
Obstacles To Economic Development
Unfortunately, community leaders have failed to responsibly confront the many obstacles to an economic recovery. 24/7 Wall St., a financial news organization, has published a list of the best and worst cities to live in in the United States, since 2016. 24/7 Wall Street examined eight categories – crime, economy, education, environment, health, housing, infrastructure, and leisure – in 551 U.S. cities with a population of 65,000 or more, to rank quality of life in those cities.
The response of community leaders to the results of these surveys has been predictable. When Albany first appeared on the list of the “50 Worst Cities to Live in”, one city commissioner “refuse[d] to believe that we’re in the worst category”, and the mayor stated: “We know what the problems are, I don’t see that makes us one of the worst communities to live in.” The appropriate response for community leaders would, of course, have been to evaluate the methodology, to determine how the deficiencies identified in these studies could be addressed.
Albany was ranked 7th on the list of worst cities in 2017 and 2018. Community leaders dismissed the studies, with one commissioner protesting: “It’s just a bunch of numbers”. Two more recent articles have included Albany in lists of the “worst” and “most miserable” cities in the United States.
24/7 Wall Street published a list of “Worst Cities to Raise Children” in 2018, with Albany ranked 18th. The authors considered a number of educational, health, and safety measures. The educational figures were preschool enrollment and high school graduation rates. The data established 43.4% of eligible children in the Albany metro area are enrolled in preschool, and 80.8% of students graduate from high school. The extremely high levels of violent crime and poverty discussed elsewhere on this site were the primary reasons Albany was included in the list. Research further revealed local residents with access to areas for exercise was in the lowest 10% of the metropolitan areas in the study.
This site proposes ambitious plans to address crime, create jobs, improve the environment, provide affordable, quality housing, while reducing blight, modernizing and upgrading the city’s infrastructure, and improving the quality of life for all of Albany’s citizens. If elected, I will confront, rather than ignore, the challenges we face.
More on this topic COMING SOON!
Tepid Efforts To Reduce Blight
Voters should not be surprised by articles in the print media and segments on local television news touting advances in reducing the number of blighted properties in the city. Typically, a city commissioner stands by as a bulldozer demolishes a dilapidated structure in his or her ward. These efforts mechanically ramp up in the months before officials are required to qualify for reelection.
An assessment of measures taken by the city commission suggests that local government is making a concerted effort to reduce the number of abandoned homes. The city was one of the first in the state to adopt a “blight tax ordinance”. Sec. 36-203 et seq. of the City Code authorizes a millage rate of 3x the city’s general rate on residential, commercial and industrial property designated as blighted by the municipal court. This is yet another ordinance which, it appears, is infrequently, if ever, enforced, even though there are hundreds of properties in the city of Albany which would meet the definition of “blighted”.
More disturbingly, the Dougherty County Tax Assessor’s Office does not advertise properties for sale, even though no ad valorem taxes have been paid, should staff make the determination that the property is “unsaleable”. This decision is presumably made when a property is offered at a tax sale and there is no bidder willing to pay the tax fi fa and costs. Consequently, the occupants remain in the home and no further recourse is pursued, even though the owner of the property continues to refuse to pay the ad valorem taxes.
The city commission’s sporadic efforts to address slum and blight are, to some degree, impelled by federal regulations which mandate action by cities which receive federal funding for certain programs and purposes. The city commission, in recent years, has approved revitalization plans for East Albany and South Albany. The city and county commissions have established a Land Bank, which may purchase and renovate tax-delinquent properties, and Fight Albany Blight (FAB), an organization dedicated to removing blighted homes, litter and debris. These programs are, however, essentially dormant, as neither organization has been staffed or funded.
Failure To Repair Sewer System
Mayor Hubbard, when interviewed days before she was to be sworn in following her reelection, pledged to make upgrades to the city’s sanitary and storm drainage system a priority. She was quoted:
I said during the election that I worry, with the age of some of the pipelines in our sewer system, that some of them might break at some time and leave us with a huge mess. We have to address them now before we worry about some of the other projects people are talking about.
If I had my way, 99 percent of all SPLOST collections would be used to fix our infrastructure.
The voters of Dougherty County approved SPLOST VII in November of that same year. The city commission, inexplicably, allocated less than 10% of the more than $59 million to be collected for Sanitary and Storm Drainage.
Citizens are aware of and embarrassed by the debacle which followed. There was a sanitary sewer overflow into the Flint River in March 2018, followed by spills, of approximately 855,000 gallons of sewage, two months later. There was another mishap in June, and approximately 200,000 gallons of sewage “poured out of a manhole” on July 5, 2018. The city commission, having failed to allocate sufficient SPLOST revenue to repair and modernize the sanitary and storm water drainage system, secured a $15 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) and retained another “sewer-monitoring” company. A segment which aired on WALB in September confirmed the city had paid that firm “$18 million since the 90’s for the lift stations, [even though] none of them have been updated since then”. The city manager was quoted as saying: “A significant portion of the City’s sewer infrastructure has reached its useful life”. The city manager did not, however, explain why the city had failed to take action on a problem Mayor Hubbard had identified as her top priority 2½ years earlier.
There was an overflow into the Percosin Canal System in February 2018. An estimated 1.2 million gallons of sewage was released into the Percosin Canal System in December 2018 and another 30,000 gallons of sewage overflowed from a manhole on Elm Street and into that same canal system in July 2019.
Most distressingly, there are reports that the monthly Stormwater Utility User Fee paid by customers is not being utilized exclusively for addressing stormwater management and drainage issues.
The Albany Water Gas & Light Commission (WG&L) was traditionally an independent entity, governed by a board of commissioners, appointed by the city commission. All operations were supervised by a general manager, who was responsible to the WG&L commissioners.
WG&L purchased electricity from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) and gas from the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia (MGAG). Electricity and gas were then provided to WG&L’s customers. Income generated by WG&L was historically a substantial source of revenue for the city, and its operation afforded relief to property owners. WG&L also billed for residential and commercial water usage.
The city and WG&L entered into an agreement, in the early 90s, which called for WG&L to transfer 7.5% of metered revenue to the city. Elected officials were troubled when WG&L employees received wage increases during years when city employees did not, and when the wage increases for WG&L employees was significantly higher than those for city employees. There was some dissension when members of the city commission learned WG&L’s leadership had not been forthcoming regarding the refund, expected to be approximately $100 million, from fees paid to MEAG members to finance price adjustments in the event of deregulation.
The city commission amended the city charter in January 2015, to convert the operations of WG&L to a city department. WG&L was renamed the Albany Utility Board. The director is now hired by and reports to the city manager, so that all operations of the former WG&L are under the day-to-day management of the city manager. The city commission must approve the budget formulated by the Albany Utility Board. The Albany Utility Board does, however, continue to set rates for electricity and gas.
The amount of money being transferred from the electric and gas services is shrouded in the city budget. This is because other public services, such as stormwater drainage and solid waste, have been ostensibly transferred to the charge of the Albany Utility Board.
The annexation of WG&L was an unreasonable, irresponsible and short-sighted decision. Electricity and gas are proprietary rather than governmental operations. These activities should be provided under the auspices of a board which is truly independent.
The MEAG Fund
WG&L charged customers a monthly fee, over the course of many years, which was remitted to MEAG. MEAG invested the fees, paid by customers of all of its members, into a fund, which was to be accessed in the event of deregulation. MEAG refunded the money to its members, after the threat of deregulation passed. Approximately $77 million was refunded to WG&L.
There were multiple claimants to these funds, which were paid over ten years. Ratepayers, understandably, expected to be reimbursed for fees paid for a service that was never provided. Members of the WG&L board felt the funds should be invested in repairing and replacing equipment and stations, and in expanding services, to include internet. Civic leaders sought funding to spur economic development, and the mayor and city commissioners identified many projects which could be financed with these funds. Eventually, the city commission voted to create three separate funds. ⅓ was allocated to WG&L, ⅓ was transferred to the general fund, and ⅓ was to be invested into a Job Creation Investment Fund. The initial requirements for funding, being the creation of 100 jobs or investment of $10 million within three years, proved too much of an obstacle. This fund has provided financing to attract investment in downtown, including Flats@249, which is 66 apartments in the former Albany Hotel, Pretoria Fields, a brewery, and The Flint, a restaurant. Funds have also been provided to local businesses, including Coats & Clark, Thrush Aircraft, Webstaurant, and Mars Chocolate North America. There appears to be approximately $17 million in this fund, and approximately $5 million in the share allocated to WG&L.
The city commission utilized much of the funds it received to pay operating costs and, not surprisingly, that $25.5 million has been depleted. The city commission has also encroached upon the Job Creation Investment Fund, as this account has been used to finance repairs to the former WG&L building and to purchase equipment and vehicles for the Gang Task Force.
The lack of vision and an appreciation for the opportunities presented by this windfall is yet another example of poor leadership.
Reduced Funding For Chehaw
Chehaw Park is the region’s most popular attraction. Community leaders, in describing Chehaw as a “jewel”, are usually paying nothing more than lip service to a unique property which has yet to realize its true potential. Civic leaders shepherd supporters of the park to support successive SPLOST referenda, and then allocate only a pittance, which usually finances much needed repairs rather than new habitats.
The city, for many years, paid $1 million to offset the expenses of operating Chehaw. The city commission, despite the fiscal irresponsibility documented elsewhere on this site, voted to gradually reduce funding for Chehaw. Consequently, the Chehaw Park Authority, which is responsible for management of the park, must increase fees and/or reduce operating costs to fulfill its mission.
The city commission was warned reduced funding could jeopardize the zoological park’s accreditation. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) conducted an inspection in June 2018 and, according to a release, denied the application for renewal of accreditation, even though the park received “high marks for animal care and welfare”. The organization’s primary concerns, according to the release, were “the zoo’s long-standing financial instability, declining support from the City, and an ever-growing backlog of deferred maintenance …” Thus, the city commission is primarily responsible for the loss of accreditation.
What does this matter? First, accreditation is verification that the zoo meets the highest standards. Second, administrators and keepers develop relationships with colleagues throughout the country at training seminars and through membership in AZA. Third, accredited institutions work in concert, and frequently exchange animals in their collections. Fourth, visitors to the park are assured that the exhibits inhabited by the captive animals are not small cages that produce unnatural behaviors. More importantly, with accreditation, the staff and the zoo’s supporters consistently strive to improve the park for their charges as well as the general public.
 Both the East Albany Revitalization Plan (Nov. 2017) and the South Albany Revitalization Plan (Apr. 2019) identified crime as the top priority. Residents in East Albany “overwhelmingly identified crime in neighborhoods and the need for more police visibility and engagement with the community” “[a]s the number one challenge they would like to see addressed …” East Albany Revitalization Plan (Nov. 2017).
 Bohle, Ashley “Albany Police Department in need of officers” WALB (Apr. 16, 2018).
 Wilson, Asia “Albany police working quickly to address officer shortage” WALB (Jan. 30, 2019).
 South Albany Revitalization Plan (Apr. 2019).
 East Albany Revitalization Plan (Nov. 2017).
 McEwen, Brad “Albany included on worst cities list” Albany Herald (Jul. 1, 2016).
 Sauter, Michael, Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen “These are America’s worst cities for crime, employment, housing costs” USA Today (Jun. 21, 2017) (“As the national population expanded by 11.5% over the last decade, the population of Albany declined by 4.0%”; “while the U.S. workforce grew by 4.0% between 2013 and 2015, total employment in Albany declined by 1.7% over the same period, the second largest employment decline out of 551 cities reviewed”).
 Pirani, Fiza “Ouch: Two Georgia cities among America’s 50 worst, report says” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jun. 13, 2018) (population declined “by 4.8 percent in the last five years”, “has the state’s highest unemployment rate” and poverty rate is “more than double the state and country’s poverty rate”); Stebbins, Samuel and Evan Comen “These are the worst cities to live in based on quality of life” USA Today (Jun. 21, 2018) (“falling population is likely attributable in part to bleak economic conditions”; “More jobs in the city would likely go a long way to ease serious financial hardship”).
 Monk, Krista “Leaders disagree with Albany’s ranking in 24/7 Wall Street worst cities article” WALB (Jun. 23, 2017); Shelton, Whitney “Albany ranked #7 on worst cities to live in” WALB (Jun. 15, 2018).
 Shelton, Whitney “Albany ranked #7 on worst cities to live in” WALB (Jun. 15, 2018).
 Parker, Garrett “The 20 Worst Cities to Live in America 2019” Money Inc. (Aug. 16, 2019) (seventh).
Often, these cities have been devastated by natural disasters. They’ve had to deal with blight and with high crime rates. Economies have struggled after industry has collapsed.
Pasley, James and Angela Wang “The 50 most miserable cities in America” Business Insider (Sep. 28, 2009) (eighteenth). Albany fell to twenty-seventh in 24/7 Wall Street’s 2019 rankings, though this evaluation excluded only cities with a population of less than 8,000. Stebbins, Samuel and Grant Suneson “These are the worst cities to live in America. Is yours one of them?” USA Today (Feb. 7, 2019). Only two cities (Detroit and Flint, Michigan) with a population of over 65,000 were ranked higher than Albany. Id.
 Suneson, Grant and Michael Sauter “Worst Cities to Raise Children” 24/7 Wall Street (Aug. 9, 2018) (30% of children who grow up in poverty do not graduate from high school).
 Id. The corresponding national averages for metropolitan areas are 48% and 84.1% respectively. Id. Some observers believe high school graduation rates are improving due to school systems embracing “social promotion” to avoid sanctions and the stigma associated with declining graduation rates.
 The statistics, from 2015, established 36.3% of children in the Albany metro area live in poverty. Id. The figures for the city would be appreciably worse, as the survey included Lee County and the other three counties (Baker, Mitchell, and Worth) in the metropolitan area.
 Land Bank Authorities may acquire tax delinquent properties and properties deeded to them “in order to foster the public purpose of returning land … to an effective utilization status or … to provide housing, new industry, and jobs for the citizens of the county”. OCGA § 48-4-61(c).
 Fletcher, Carlton “Mayor Dorothy Hubbard to be sworn in for second term Monday” Albany Herald (Jan. 10, 2016).
 Mathews, Noelani “Residents call for change after nearly 900,000 gallons of sewage spill into Flint River” WCTV (Jun. 27, 2018).
 Miller, Dave “City of Albany announces another sewage leak” WALB (Jul. 6, 2018).
 Dauer, Paige “Albany officials urge residents to be aware of sewage spill at Flint River” WALB (May 25, 2018).
 Fletcher, Carlton and Jennifer Parks “Sewage overflows at Elm Street manhole” Albany Herald (Jul. 23, 2019).
 Passmore, Grason “City takes a step toward sewer repairs” WALB (Sept. 6, 2018).
 Wood, Christopher “Water warning issued after sewage spills in Albany” WALB (Feb. 14, 2018).
 “City of Albany reports 2 separate sewage spills” WALB (Dec. 5, 2018).
 Monk, Krista “About 30k gallons of sewage overflow into Albany’s Percosin Canal system” WALB (Jul. 22, 2019).
 Barela, Jordan “Sewage spill reported in Albany” WALB (Feb. 8, 2019).
 Barela, Jordan “Albany reports sewage spill caused by ‘rare failure in piping system’” WALB (Mar. 8, 2019).
 MEAG purchases almost all of the electricity distributed to its members from Southern Company (Georgia Power).
 I felt the money from MEAG should have been invested in solar power, which would have reduced utility bills and our city’s dependence on fossil fuels. Dorough, Kermit “MEAG funds should be used to construct solar farm” Albany Herald (Aug. 25, 2018).
 Trubey, J. Scott “Albany ups the ante in fight for jobs” The Atlanta-Journal Constitution (Nov. 29, 2013).
 The city commission expended $6.5 million from the MEAG fund to replace street lights throughout the city, with much brighter and more energy efficient LED lights. Shelton, Whitney “Albany commissioners approve $6.5 million LED lighting system” WALB (Oct. 24, 2018); McCarthy, Kailey “Albany City Commissioners pass $6.5M LED light upgrade” WFXL (Oct. 23, 2018).
 Barela, Jordan and Whitney Shelton “Chehaw Zoo loses accreditation” WALB (Sep. 27, 2018).