ATC to 'roast' former labor commissioner

ALBANY, Ga. -- While poking a little fun at a public figure, an area college is hoping to raise some needed funds to keep things at its campus running smoothly.

The Albany Technical College Foundation will be holding its annual "Roast" fundraiser tonight in the campus' Kirkland Conference Center.

The "roastee" will be former state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond.

"Each year in the spring Albany Technical College asks a prominent (figure) if we can roast him or her, and we've asked the community to say things about them in good taste," said Anthony Parker, president of Albany Tech.

A silent auction is planned for 6 p.m. in the conference center atrium, with the dinner and program set for 7 p.m. Roasters for the evening will include Parker, former Labor Department Employment Marketing Representative Panzer Hall, Labor Department Communications and Outreach Specialist Gene Washington, Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ron Jackson and Albany Mayor Willie Adams.

Some of the figures that have been roasted in the past include Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Joel Wernick, Adams and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany. Dr. Charles Gillespie, a figure that was instrumental in the formation of Dougherty's emergency medical services program, was roasted last year.

Funds raised from the event will go into the college's foundation as well as other Albany Tech programs and activities.

"It helps the Albany Tech Foundation by providing operational funding for us," Parker said. "As you can imagine, in these economic times, we don't get as many cash donations as we have gotten in recent years."

Tickets have been on sale for $50 per person, or $500 for a table of eight people. Officials feel good about the chances of reaching their fundraising goal, which is $20,000.

"Ticket sales have been going well. We are about where we were last year," Parker said. "We haven't had an increase in ticket sales, but we know the event will be profitable."

Thurmond graduated with honors from Paine College with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religion and later earned a juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He also completed the political executives program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In 1986, Thurmond became the first African-American elected to the Georgia General Assembly from Clarke County since Reconstruction. He eventually created the Workfirst program, which has helped over 90,000 welfare-dependent Georgia families move into to the work force.

In 1997, Thurmond became a distinguished lecturer at the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government. He was elected to the labor commissioner post the following year.

"I've known Michael Thurmond for 20 years," Parker said. "Our paths have crossed many times and he has helped us. Michael has always been supportive of the community."

Thurmond currently serves on the board for the Curators of the Georgia Historical Society.

The Albany Tech Foundation holds two major fundraisers each year, a fall golf tournament and a roast. The golf tournament will be held in October at the Grand Island Golf Course.