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ADICA renews chamber membership, prepares for tour

ALBANY, Ga. -- After much discussion, the board of trustees for the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority voted Wednesday to renew its membership with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.

Much of the board, including interim CEO James Taylor, was surprised to learn last month that ADICA was, in-fact, a paying member of the chamber.

But with the organization's membership expiring, Taylor requested the board take up the issue Wednesday and give him direction to either renew or drop its membership.

While the dues were part of the negotiation -- $260 -- the crux of the debate among board members was if being a member truly benefited ADICA and its mission or whether it should save the money, which wasn't budgeted to be spent.

"It would probably be to the city's benefit and to ours that we come together, since we do have a common interest in promoting and growing business," board member Bob Kraselsky said. "Business as usual cannot continue. If we all want to be successful, we need to get together and share our goals."

Board member LaNicia Hart offered another perspective, saying that maybe Taylor and staff could research whether the chamber would be willing to treat ADICA as it does the Dougherty County Commission.

While the Commission is an ex-oficio member of the chamber, it pays no dues, but it also has no say in how the chamber operates.

After board member David Prisant requested Taylor's opinion on the matter -- which he gave reluctantly -- Taylor said he believes the board should retain its membership with the chamber and take full advantage of its services.

Hearing that, the board voted 5-1 to renew ADICA's membership with board member Thelma Johnson voting against and board member Phil Cannon abstaining due to a possible conflict of interest as he is the chairman of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, an arm of the chamber.

In other business, the board voted to maintain a $500-per-month repayment schedule in place for former downtown business owner Tim Washington, despite Washington's plea to lower the amount because he reportedly remains unemployed.

Washington was ordered by Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall to repay ADICA $46,000 in facade grants and back rent, in the wake of an investigation that sent former Downtown Manager Don Buie to jail.

Washington told Taylor that following Buie's trial he was let go from his job, and his attempts at finding work have been unsuccessful. As a result, Washington reportedly told Taylor that he would ask the board to cut his payments in half so that he wouldn't fall behind.

Board members debated the issue, trying to decide whether lowering the amount would serve both the board and justice or if they should work with Washington to ensure that they're able to get something -- even $250 per month -- back.

"If he's not able to pay, it's better to get $250 than nothing," Johnson said, referring to the stipulations in his plea agreement that state that if he doesn't repay the money he risks going to jail, where he likely wouldn't pay anything.

After some on the board expressed concern about possibly reporting Washington to the court for violating the terms of his plea agreement and sending him to jail, Cannon, a criminal defense attorney by trade, told them that repayment is actually split between two areas. If Washington doesn't pay the amount specified in the plea agreement, he would risk further punishment from the court regardless if ADICA takes action or not, Cannon said, but that's a criminal matter. His inability to repay the board is a civil issue.

"As an attorney, I can tell you from experience that the likelihood of a judge tossing him into jail because he can't pay is extremely unlikely," Cannon said. "There are just too many folks in there, and they wouldn't do it for that."

Kraselsky said he was in favor of keeping the repayment amount the same but said that the board should consider being flexible in taking less if that is the only amount Washington can provide.

"It gives us a chance to show his good-faith effort," Kraselsky said. "... Let's leave it the way it is and see what he does."