ALBANY, Ga. -- A Naples, Fla., man has been designated the best qualified candidate to become Albany's next downtown manager, according to a news release issued by the Albany city manager's office Thursday morning.
Aaron Blair from Naples, Fla., told The Albany Herald on Thursday afternoon that he was honored to be considered the best qualified candidate. He said he believes that he can bring a vision to Albany that will advance the downtown area.
"I'm honored, obviously, to be in the running," Blair said. "I look forward to this opportunity; I think there is a lot of potential for your downtown."
Blair previously worked for the Living Word Family Church in Naples, where he served as a project manager for a $14.5 million expansion that was completed in July. Before that, he served as an urban design planner for Collier County, Fla., and was the director for the Collier County Community Redevelopment Agency. He has a bachelor of urban design degree from the University of Cincinnati, city officials say.
John Lampl, who is also a candidate for the downtown manager job, is a City Council member and business owner in Morrow near Atlanta.
Currently the owner of Cuff Linx in Morrow, he was previously the city manager in Morrow and served as executive director and economic developer for the Morrow Downtown Development Authority from 2006 until March 2010.
But Lampl is currently wrestling with an investigation launched by fellow council members who voted at their Aug. 25 meeting to hire an Atlanta firm to investigate a grievance complaint filed by Morrow's finance director against Lampl. The complaint has been described largely as one alleging a "hostile work environment," according to media reports published in the Clayton News Daily.
According to media reports in Morrow, Lampl appears to be caught in a fight with former Morrow mayor Jim Millirons that started when Lampl accused Millirons of profiting from a deal brokered with the city in which the mayor received a $200,000 commission for a real estate sale.
Millirons, who stepped down in April for health reasons, said the deal was above board and accused Lampl of sullying his name in a bid to replace him as mayor.
Lampl holds an executive MBA and bachelors in Business Administration from Georgia State University.
City Manager Alfred Lott said Thursday that he feels that the process has been extensive and that the city has landed two top-tier candidates.
"It's been one of the most extensive and thorough searches I've been involved in since I've been city manager," Lott said. "They had exceptional references and qualifications and their backgrounds came back clean."
When asked about the investigation into Lampl, Lott said that it's now only an accusation, but that the fact that a grievance has been filed is a concern.
"It does to a certain degree, but people make accusations against public officials all the time. Those types of accusations are just a part of public life," Lott said. "But before I would hire him, I would insist that that particular situation be cleared up and resolved."
Lott said at this point in the hiring process, the city intends to enter into negotiations with Blair, who he said has the experience and vision to move downtown forward.
"He's the kind of guy that can look at a building ... and tell what will be the best fit and what will work, and, at the same time, get out there and recruit new businesses and reach out to ASU and get them more involved in what happens downtown," Lott said.
The Albany Herald found on Blair's record Thursday a recent court action taken in Collier County initiating foreclosure proceedings on property Blair apparently owns. Documents with the clerk of court for Collier County show that a civil complaint was filed June 15 by Deutsche Bank National Trust and Harborview Mortgage Loan Trust.
Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said that city officials were aware of that issue and had contacted Blair about it. Smith said Albany officials were told that Blair and his family were working with bank officials to determine whether to go through on a short sale of the property or to allow it to be foreclosed upon.
"Unfortunately with this recession there are many people across the country who have gone through the foreclosure process," Smith said. "It didn't come up through his credit check and he's been open and honest about it; it will be something we keep an eye on."
Tax records obtained by The Herald show that Blair appears to have been a victim of the housing bubble. Blair bought his current home in Naples in December 2002 and paid $221,000. Current assessed value for that same piece of property is $143,000, documents show.
Lampl, meanwhile, said Thursday that he was impressed with the city and the measures that had already been taken to advance the heart of the city.
"It's unfortunate that things outside of my control got in the way," he said. "Sometimes that happens, but that is an experience that you have to live with. It's (Albany) a great place and I know that they are going to do well."
The city must wait 14 days before hiring anyone for the position after disclosing the finalists.
Some of Blair's former colleagues in Collier County had nothing but good things to say about the former developer.
"He was great," Jean Jourdan, a project manager with the Bayshore/Golden Triangle Community Redevelopment Agency, said. "He was always very responsible and punctual and was able to accomplish a lot while he was here."
Blair was the first executive director of the CRA and oversaw redevelopment of a blighted and crime-ridden section of town.
Jourdan said that since the CRA was started, crime in the target area has dropped by 50 percent and they have managed to reduce blight by purchasing dilapidated properties, razing them and erecting multi-use structures or selling them to developers.