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Disgruntled taxpayers quiz commission

ALBANY, Ga. -- A group of disgruntled taxpayers took to the podium at Monday's County Commission meeting to air grievances related to consolidation, taxation and spending, and speed limits, and to question officials over their handling of the Dougherty County budget.

Charles Westbrook, Jim Balch, Dinorrah Hall and Tom Mueller each expressed dissatisfaction with facets of county government Monday, at times drawing the ire of commissioners, some of whom are in the middle of budget development.

Westbrook, who came to ask commissioners again to revisit the idea of a public referendum on consolidating the city and county governments, renewed his call for consolidation, but also urged commissioners to "make the hard decisions" on the budget while railing against a proposed 2-mill tax increase in the unincorporated part of Dougherty County.

"So far, we've only seen quick fixes to balance the budget. Quit trying to balance the budget on the backs of county police and employees with no pay increases and furlough days for several years in a row," Westbrook said. "These may be short-term solutions, but should never be used as an ongoing budget fix."

Westbrook's comments seemed to hit a nerve with Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, who chairs the commission's finance committee.

Hudgins attempted to pin Westbrook down, reminding him that, of the $6.4 million special services district budget, roughly $6.2 million went to fund fire services and the Dougherty County Police Department.

"I don't think you're advocating that we close down a fire station or lay off police officers, so where would you have us cut?" Hudgins said. "I'd like for you to help us. Go through the budget and find things that we can cut. That would be helpful."

When Westbrook attempted to offer a suggestion after saying that he hadn't examined the budget, the exchange got a little testy.

"I don't have all of the facts, but ...," Westbrook said.

"Then you should get some," Hudgins interjected.

Mueller complained that the commissioners were approaching the budget from too high a perspective.

"If you don't get down into the sheriff's budget and department head's budget, you won't find the savings," Mueller said. "The devil is in the details. ... Don't tell me you all are good stewards when we pay more for fewer services."

Balch brought up consolidation, saying merging departments is "the easist and quickest way to save money."

"If you really want to save money, you should consolidate the Sheriff's Office and the Dougherty County Police Department," Balch said. "I don't think you people are doing a very good job and you're stonewalling consolidation."

Dinorrah Hall told commissioners that the Georgia Department of Transportation recommendation to increase the speed limit on Philema Road was "ridculous."

"Just today, someone hit a deer on that stretch," Hall said. "Increasing the speed limit would cause more fatal crashes."

Commissioner Ewell Lyle, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Chairman Jeff Sinyard, thanked the group for getting involved in their government and speaking before the commission.

"I think you got the commission's attention," Lyle said. "Thanks for wanting to be part of the solution."

Dougherty County finance committee members will continue their review of the general fund budget at a meeting at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Comments

Justice4Moma 1 year, 11 months ago

It is hard to get all the facts when you have people on the Commission'S that dont like to tell it all,and hide stuff from taxpayers.If All the Commissions would take a little out of there pockets,and keep there hands out of ours for a change they might would try to find other ways. Hey i got it,just get rid of Merfree,lol,that would save alot.Make all the teachers pay back what they took,Cuttliff,Oh i could go on.How about a bigger Airport that we do not need?I may not have a high school Ed.But i bet i could find ways to save money.I have had to learn thanks to all of you.

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J.D._Sumner 1 year, 10 months ago

Justice, the Dougherty County Commission has nothing to do with the superintendent, nor did they have anything to do with Cutliff Grove, nor do they deal with the airport.

How can the populace expect to have competent elected officials when most of the voters are ignorant to the government as evidenced by Moma?

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

Mr. Sumner by your reply did you intend to suggest that all of our elected officials are incompetent and that most of the voting populace are ignorant of government? If that is the case in Dougherty County, perhaps one should investigate the quality of the history and political science courses at ASU and Darton and contemplate the old ideas of initiative, referendum, and recall.

Also, the media could help combat public ignorance by informing the public as to how and where to obtain easy access to the itemized penny by penny budgets. Some media sources even publish or provide online access to assist the public because statements such as the $6.4 million special services budget made by Commissioner Hudgins to a constituent are meaningless without any specifics for individual receipts and expenditures when it comes to constructive budgeting. Do such itemized budgets exist in County and City governments for Dougherty and Albany? Yes, they will be long, but it takes time and effort to makes things work correctly or to truly solve a problem.

Ignorance means lack of understanding, not laziness, so the voting populace is capable of becoming informed by your assessment if they desire, but the media and higher education must also do their part in providing instruction on where to find and how the primary documents are interpreted. The voting populace might then elect competent officials who do not “discover” information years after relevancy, utilize closed door sessions, pay outside consultants or search firms to decide basic matters, and provide partial disclosure on bidding and government awarded contracts. It is the responsibility of both the public and the press to demand answers and to expose the incompetency. Members of the press should not be writing articles or making assertions about the total voting populace using a sampling of only one individual. Likewise, the public should not condemn the press for reporting both positives and negatives, nor should either the public or press confuse unbiased reporting versus editorial pieces.

I'm no longer in Albany, so why do I care? Albany has potential if the City can simply forgive and forget issues of the past and its citizens work together for the good of all and not allow only a handful of opportunists to profit by maintaining the divide.

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

Thank you for the compliment and best to you and yours in trying to make Albany and the surrounding area into the place it should be.

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agonized 1 year, 10 months ago

That is one of the best written and logical posts I've read recently, and very much on the mark. Thank you for providing some needed perspective.

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TJF 1 year, 10 months ago

My opinion, with regards to Dougherty County Commission not being for the employees, is self explanatory. They were hit last year with a 3% pay out on their retirement (which is equivalent to approximately 10 or so furlow days). So, if they are hit with an additional 9 furlow days, they will have been hit with approximately 21 furlow days in two years! Some changes need to happen within Dougherty County Government...starting with the TOP!

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 10 months ago

I probably would have a smart reply back to Commissioner Hudgens if he asked me that question. Mr. Westbrook should have replied to Hudgens to cut his pay. LOL

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VietVet1 1 year, 10 months ago

Vote um out. Maybe the next batch will be more productive.

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DoctorDorite 1 year, 10 months ago

One thing I've noticed about Albany and Doughtery Co. is they'll spend money to entertain the non- taxpayers on the backs of the taxpayers. Why does government feel they have to entertain people anyway, let the private sector do that, its called "private enterprise" for those that don't know. Also I've never understood why 2 county wide law enforcement agencies were needed, that'd be a good place to start without losing patrolmen, maybe the top brass would need to go though.

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 10 months ago

You are correct. Neither the City or County Commission seems to want consolidation to happen since some commissioners would lose their seats if it happens. That is why they fight us tooth and nail on the issue, but really with so many taxpayers leaving the region it only makes sense to consolidate to stay afloat and not raise taxes. Hopefully, they will realize this when ALL the taxpayers have left Dougherty County and then they will be scrambling, but I am betting they still wouldn't have a clue even if it came to that.

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Jacob 1 year, 10 months ago

Hudgins seems to forget what public servant means. Perhaps the voters will remind him come election day that it is unseemly to be arrogant and condescending to the public.

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J.D._Sumner 1 year, 10 months ago

Kaos, If you'll remember that the city voted to send a consolidated government charter to the general assembly. The county commission has voted it down twice.

As to the police issue. There is only one county-wide police force. The DCP is responsible for investigating and arresting folks in the unincorporated area. The Sheriff's office has a small investigative unit but theyre only constitutionally-mandated to secure the courts, serve warrants and secure and operate the jail.

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DoctorDorite 1 year, 10 months ago

J.D, your correct in your assesment of the law enforcment situation, thats exactly the problem, research the number of counties that operate this way and you'll find it boils down to double taxation and poor law enforcement, I believe the numbers will show that to be true, just look at the countys crime rate, is it safer in Doughtery, don't think so. Are the county residents getting more bang for their bucks, don't think so. Are they saving money, don't think so. Am I safer in Doughtery than I am in Tift, Lowndes, Thomas, don't think so.

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

Since I no longer reside in GA, my specific numbers might be incorrect today but I would not expect radical shifts. Constitutionally, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in his or her respective county. They provide the primary law enforcement services in unincorporated areas and may contract with municipalities to provide law enforcement services within incorporated areas. Whether such contract exists or not, the sheriff maintains statewide law enforcement and pursuit jurisdiction powers regardless of municality or county. Less than 10 percent of Georgia counties also utilize a county police department (the number is 12 if my memory is correct) which are constitutionally answerable to county officials who determine their duties, compensation, etc., which are only limited by provisions of POST and Chapter 8 Title 35 of the Official Code of Georgia. The only Georgia Constitutional mandate regarding the office of sheriff is in Article IX Section I Paragraph 3. Individual counties have the power to authorize a county police department in addition to a sheriff’s office, but the constitutional law enforcement powers of the sheriff are not stricken even if the county chooses to have a county police department to carry out certain duties not prohibited at the state level of governance.

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Justice4Moma 1 year, 10 months ago

J.D. I maybe ignorant to the government.But Goverment here are just as ignorant.When you have been through as much as i have with all of them,then you know where you stand.Now i know where i stand with the Hearld,thank you very much for letting me know how ignorant i am.But at least i know who to vote for! And for what reason.God Bless.

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

Given budgeting and economic issues, I would like to see a Herald feature where the press requests statements from county commissioners voting down a consolidated government charter proposal, and statements from city commissioners ascertaining their positions and any efforts to offer another proposal. Let the populace read the respective positions in print so they have information to make informed decisions on where they decide to cast their vote next election. That is one way the press could help battle “voter ignorance” which I do not see evidenced in the comments on this article. Of course, I no longer reside in Albany so I find the questioned raised by Kaos, Dr, Jacob, VietVet, TJF, and yes Justice to all be relevant. None of their comments violate the incorporation provisions of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution as applied to the 1st Amendment. Many people without local ties left the area and went where they had the opportunity to work in the community without facing repercussions from supervisors simply for conversing with people on the other side of the Flint. That either / or and us against them mentality promoted by a few is not the accepted standard in other areas where one’s contributions to a community are regarded the same no matter the side of town. There are still many good people left in the area, former colleagues, friends, and the individuals taking the time to comment on this story and request more information from both elected officials and the press.

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Justice4Moma 1 year, 10 months ago

If i have said anything wrong about our Officals i will say i am sorry.I said IF.If they did not have anything to do with the abouve that i wrote about then please tell me who did. But i am not ignorant to the government.I know more than you do about each and everyone of them.I have had everyone of my rights violated by them,and been put out to be some crazy women.But i have learned something fighting Cancer,Dont give up! I have a 9 th grade education,and probley old enough to be your mother JD,But i am not ignorant ! I thought all the Officals made me feel low,but your remark really hurt.If you follow some of my post i say if i am not right then teach me,i love to learn.I was not even going to come back on here and post,but this will be the last one. Your remark struck me hard,i will not lie.But i thought the Herald was fair,and i never thought in my heart that i would hear from you,the same that the Officals have tried to say about me.So please leave this post on here,for it will be my last.I can tell when my voice is no welcome.To all the ones on here i have wrote with,hope you all have a BLESSED LIFE,and even you JD.SEE i dont hold grudges,i just speak the truth as i know it.And i as a TAXPAYER thought i had that right.Just tells me how far the GOOD OLE BOY SYSTEM goes.GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

Justice, it is only my opinion, but I find nothing wrong with your comments/questions on this story. Even though the word “ignorant” was used in a negative way by the author at the beginning, in reality the word is not negative. For example, I am ignorant as to comments made by you and others on other stories because I have not read them. While I know of the devastating impact cancer can have, I am ignorant of all of the unseen challenges one must endure and overcome when battling the disease because neither I nor someone close to me has ever faced that condition first-hand. The closest we have come to actually experiencing anything about cancer first-hand is being fortunate enough to have pre-cancerous growths removed before the possibilty of cancer developing and a biopsy which showed that a growth was benign. All I am trying to say is that regardless of topic, the word “ignorant” really means not yet having the opportunity or need to study or learn something. In my professional life (professor, administrator, government consultant and liason), I’ll admit that I myself am ignorant of many things but that does not make me any less or better than anyone else.

I’m also ignorant to other pieces Mr. Sumner has written for this publication, so I am not able to offer any credible personal judgement of his overall work. In this particular story and comments, I do find a lack of understanding of the role of the press. The press is a vehicle to report the story to make the public aware which combats the “ignorance” charge he threw at you in the comments. By the story itself, I am not clear as to if the commissioners addressed the question of Mr. Westbrook regarding consolidation and am honestly astonished that a public service official is not railed in the piece for the condescending attitude to a constituent. Now, my feelings about editorializing within an article might be different if the author of the story had not attacked a commentor in that same manner in the comments thread.

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

As written previously, I cannot offer any judgements of the knowledge and credibility of Mr. Sumner based on one story. I am ignorant in that I cannot make arguments based on a sample size of one and will not assume that “most of most of the…are ignorant as evidenced by….” That would simply break the word “assume” into a chalkboard lesson. I can offer that the role of the press and reporters throughout history has been to provide the populace with information about the events taking place. The media is a repository of information and guide such as a dictionary or encyclopedia to make the populace informed. Whether in print or on broadcast, the greatest reporters in history do not make themselves the story, but relay the events so that anyone not there could easily place themselves in the climate. Of course that is becoming more a rarity today with the Twitter length writing mentality, but there are professionals who carry on the true media torch as did people such as Grantland Rice and Edward Murrow in lighting the lantern so the populace can see.

Do not feel low…attempts by others to lower someone are often because the other person cannot raise themselves to a higher level. Their feelings of superiority only results from making others feel inferior to them. I’m happy that many of the citizens such as yourself and others who commented desire change in a location I once thought might be the place I retire. It’s sad though to see not only the public officials but members of the press employing the same superior/inferior attitude which divided Albany during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and continues to be fanned back to flames whenever concerned citizens on both sides of the River try to extinguish the spark.

Best to you in your battles, Justice, and please hold your head high. Unless you are different from everyone else, I imagine that in the course of your lifetime you have had different views of situations depending on the shoes you had to wear at the time. Remember that no person can truly understand another until they have walked miles that person’s shoes. I have never walked in yours, but I know that I am no better than you and actually probably not even at the same high level as you because I haven’t lived long enough to gain the same level of experience. Some of my greatest learning experiences in Albany were from listening to the retired veterans and auxillory members at Legion Posts 30 and 512. The joy of youth is great, but the wisdom from experience can be stronger than that youth.

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agonized 1 year, 10 months ago

I'm sorry to hear that this post is your last, Justice, and I hope you will re-think that. You have a lot of insight into matters of local government and the city and county in general. Never let anyone make you feel inferior because of your education. There is no substitute for common sense. I have degrees, but I can't fix my own car or cut my own hair or run a business alone. In other words, higher education makes me no better or worse of a person than anyone else, and some of my professors were so out of touch with reality, it was ridiculous. Frankly, I've learned far more in real life.

Personally, I was disappointed myself in the remark at issue. I thought it was very condescending in tone. That's the unfortunate thing about the Internet; it's not like speaking face-to-face so perhaps I misunderstood. However, as my husband is fond of saying, opinions are like a certain part of the anatomy--everybody has one. Don't let someone else's opinion prevent you from posting your own. God bless in your cancer fight!

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YDoICare 1 year, 10 months ago

Very well stated. As someone who spent the majority of their adult working life in higher education, I will state that formal schooling and earning degrees are only a part of the equation and are not even a true gauge of intelligence, let alone worth. There are methods used in the fields of a farmer, the dwelling of a stay-at-home spouse, an individual working on a road crew, firefighter, law enforcement, clerks in a store, and so on which cannot be learned to the same degree in a formal classroom. Formal education at its core is a means to discover opportunities to help yourself and others. The problem, however, is “education” has morphed into this theoretical business where everything is judged based on test scores, grades, enrollments, and graduation rates. Even though I have read and “learned” many ways to rank amounts of education, I have yet to find or discover an accurate way to rank success, knowledge, or learning without seeing a lifetime of work. I can list a lot of letters after my signature, but I maintain friendships with people I met in grade school who have no degrees or formal training yet I seek them out to get their opinions on matters concerning my work both in the classroom and in interacting with government at different levels. Grades only represent the amount and quality of work presented by the student; they do not illustrate fully what a student has learned or is capable of learning. No person should feel inferior for asking an honest question to which they desire information. Often, the reality is that the person asked is too insecure in their own self to attempt to assist another. Based on the input from all on this story, I fail to see any self imposed ignorance by the commenters. I see public officials feeling threatened by having questions asked, and the media not serving the public by not getting the records available for public review. Myself, I never would have commented on this story if I had not read the author’s comment to Justice. The author should be happy for all the comments because if the populace were indeed “ignorant” the news media in failing to do their jobs of keeping the public informed has to be a factor in creating that environment. Just as I am not capable of gauging success or knowledge, I cannot understand why a writer for a publication would in fact slam the value of that publication by asserting its readers are ignorant. Of course this is the Internet age where it is easy to create misunderstandings. One of my faults is in writing too much in today's world, because I grew up in a climate where one needed to provide explanations for every opinion or assertion.

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