Merger effort dead in House

ALBANY, Ga. -- As the 2010 term of the Georgia General Assembly expired Thursday night, so did any chance of voters having a chance to vote on whether to unite the governments of Albany and Dougherty County.

The bill that called for consolidation of the two bodies -- Senate Bill 538 -- was adopted by the Senate in a vote April 21. That 44-0 vote moved the bill to the House, where it went through two readings but died when the session expired early Friday before it had a chance to move into the House committee that deals with local legislation.

For the bill to have made it to a referendum, it would've had to come favorably out of committee, then passed a floor vote on the House and then be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The death of the bill means that a consolidation effort that began when House Bill 800 was introduced in April 2009 is over.

Local leadership expressed divided sentiments about the end of the consolidation effort.

Albany Mayor Willie Adams said that he believes the city commission fulfilled its obligation and responsibilities by giving Senator Freddie Powell Sims -- who had delayed deliberations on HB 800 in the Senate until she said local leadership could weigh in on the matter and send a substitute charter to Atlanta for consideration -- a framework to use.

In split votes, the city commission voted to send a proposed

consolidation charter to Atlanta. The county commission voted against.

"In essence, I think we did what we could do on the local level," Adams said. "We sent it up to Atlanta and by a quirk of the rules it died in the legislature."

Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard kept his comments on the matter brief and to the point.

"I'm disappointed that the people didn't get a chance to vote on the way they are governed," Sinyard said. "It's just as simple as that."

Sims, who told the Herald in an interview earlier during the session that she was feeling pressure from those on both sides of the issue, said she promised local leaders that if they sent a charter up, she would push it through the Senate, a promise she ultimately lived up to.

During the months between sessions, city and county leaders held various listening sessions where they invited the public to come and voice their opinions on the consolidation move. The vast majority of comments aired publicly during many of the meetings were against consolidation in general and some even were against the concept of even having a referendum.