ALBANY -- As former Downtown Manager Don Buie began serving his jail sentence Wednesday following his Tuesday night plea to theft and false statements charges, city officials say they've learned some serious lessons from the investigation that reduced the once formidable public figure to an inmate.
James Taylor, the city's assistant city manager assigned to temporarily oversee the day-to-day operations of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, said that Buie's plea brings a welcome end to a controversy that has left an ominous and embarrassing cloud over the organization.
"We're eager to move on, but that's not to say that we haven't learned from all of this," Taylor said. "There have been some new financial safeguards put into place, and the agency continues to review its policies to make sure that what he (Buie) did never happens again."
Buie was accused of using his positions as both the downtown manager and the executive director and CEO of ADICA to funnel money to his wife and former girlfriend, while also concealing the details of a sweetheart deal for a downtown business from members of the ADICA board.
Buie pleaded guilty Tuesday night to theft by taking by a government official, making false statements and concealing information from a political subdivision more than seven hours into jury deliberations in what was a negotiated plea deal offered by prosecutors.
He was sentenced by Judge Denise Marshall to a total of 10 years -- nine on probation and 12 months at the Dougherty County Jail. He must also pay $5,000 restitution to ADICA, is banned from Dougherty County and can never work for any political or government agency again.
Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards responded to criticism of the
deal Wednesday by saying that the trial could have been avoided if Buie had simply agreed to deals prosecutors had put on the table earlier.
"He had an opportunity to admit his guilt and spare the ordeal of a trial, but he refused and so we were obligated to prosecute," Edwards said. "We believed he needed to serve jail time and pay the money back that he stole, and this deal accomplishes that."
Faced with a likely mistrial after jurors returned into the courtroom following several hours of deliberations saying they couldn't reach a verdict, the deal was brokered in an effort to ensure that Buie would be held accountable for his actions, Edwards said.
But a juror on the case, who asked not to be identified because of the confidential nature of the information, said that the jury was headed toward a consensus on many of the charges and had overcome what was initially a stumbling block in two jurors -- including the foreperson -- who appeared determined to acquit on all charges.
The juror said that after the initial vote, it appeared that they wouldn't reach a consensus and that the jury elected to send a note to Marshall saying as much.
In the courtroom, Marshall read what is known as the Allen Charge, which essentially asks the jury to continue deliberating and to scrutinize the evidence more carefully in hopes of breaking through any stalemate.
The juror said that when they went back into the jury room, the dynamic of the situation began to change, with the jury reaching unanimous votes to convict on three or four of the counts, but with some other counts coming down to 10-2 votes and two different jurors voting to acquit.
The jury was discussing count nine of the indictment, which was a theft count, when Marshall came in and dismissed them, the juror said.
This particular juror said he felt that the jury would be dismissed for the night and called back Wednesday morning to continue deliberations. He said he felt that a verdict on each of the counts -- either to acquit or convict -- would've been possible.
Edwards said he and Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Cohilas had planned for a retrial that would have begun Jan. 4, but that the deal prevented the added expense of hosting the trial again.
When asked if the expense of a criminal prosecution and trial justified the resulting deal, Edwards was certain.
"During the course of this investigation, ADICA has reorganized and placed new safeguards into place, government officials have undergone new and intense scrutiny, the public has learned that unethical and illegal conduct on any level will be prosecuted and the victim in this case, the taxpayer, will get more than $100,000 back," he said. "So, yes."
Taylor said that the city will now begin moving forward with the hiring of a new downtown manager, one who can marry fiscal accountability with a vision and passion for promoting downtown.
"Someone is out there that can get the job done and we, I'm sure, will find them," Taylor said.
The new executive director will inherit an ADICA board with some fresh faces, as at least three board positions will be open when the board meets in January.
A fourth position, currently held by Elvis Muldrow, is up for reappointment. Muldrow has expressed a desire to be reappointed, although the Albany City Commission will have the final say on who sits in his chair come January.