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CARLTON FLETCHER: Albany-Dougherty leaders must look forward in 2014

OPINION: A number of crucial issues face Albany-Dougherty leaders in New Year

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Do do do do do do, It’s just another day.

Paul McCartney

Sure, we have to buy a new calendar and all those end-of-year bills have come due, but the primary significance of the start of the New Year is that we get one more day to satiate our football obsession and one more night to party. Those of us who’ve shifted over into the boring subspecies, however, get one more night to remind us just how boring we are.

Even boring people tend to reflect or look forward as the New Year is ushered in, though. And as 2014 kicks into gear, here’s hoping that local officials are ready to address some lingering issues that will have a huge impact on our region.

PIPELINE: While federal officials will make the final decision on the path of a proposed underground pipeline that’s supposed to pass through a portion of Dougherty County to transport natural gas — up to a billion cubic feet a day! — from central Alabama to central Florida, local officials must do all they can to make sure their citizens are protected. The Sabal Trail pipeline will certainly solve a lot of Florida’s future energy woes, but Georgians (including many in Southwest Georgia) need to be assured that every measure has been taken to guarantee their safety.

Horror stories of leaking pipes, explosions, the release of deadly chemicals into the air and more abound in relation to Spectra Energy’s 19,000-plus miles of underground pipeline in this country. Dougherty County commissioners cannot simply take the company’s press releases at face value without addressing concerns of a large number of area citizens who have opposed the pipeline since it was announced.

MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION: For the Albany City Commission, this is the issue that keeps on giving … and giving … and giving … It’s been in the works for well past a decade, and the city has even lost millions of dollars in expected funding because of the commission’s inability to make a decision that will stick. The issue appeared to be settled before Native American artifacts were discovered at a selected site on Washington Street, wiping out hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs and sending the matter back to the drawing board.

The current commission has apparently settled on locating the transportation hub at the Trailways bus depot/Destiny Travel site at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd., but the process is dragging along at a snail’s pace, jeopardizing more federal and state dollars. This project should be expedited and the new transport station built in 2014.

CUTLIFF GROVE’S NATIVITY VILLAGE: For many taxpayers who tend to think bottom line only, the solution to the Nativity issue is simple: Make Cutliff Grove pay the agreed-upon payments on time or foreclose on the property. But this issue runs much deeper than that.

The city of Albany is already managing 229 housing units, and if it took over control of Nativity it would add 42 more. City Manager James Taylor has told the city’s Community and Economic Development department he wants them out of the landlord business. If Cutliff Grove is allowed to renegotiate a payment plan, as it is seeking to do, it can maintain management responsibilities and the city will still get its money, but at a slower rate than anticipated.

Officials with Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center, the development arm of Cutliff Grove Baptist Church, have insisted that they has not misused funding generated by management of the development — Commissioner Roger Marietta made mention of rumors about the church’s pastor using that funding to finance a failed restaurant venture at a recent meeting — and has offered to open its books as proof. So far, though, it hasn’t.

ONE MAN’S TRASH: One of Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard’s signature priorities has been cleanup efforts in the city, and Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn is one of Lee County’s primary community cleanup organizers. But despite those top executives’ and organizations like Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful’s well-publicized efforts, Dougherty and Lee counties have some of the trashiest highways and byways in Southwest Georgia.

Law enforcement agencies have lamented that “no one’s going to throw out trash with a cop car behind them,” but until a concerted effort is made to hit litterers where it hurts most — in the pocketbook — the problem will only get worse. One can only imagine how bad the area’s appearance might be without the tons of trash removed every year by volunteers.

LEADERSHIP SEARCH: In James Taylor, Albany has one of local government’s most effective and proven leaders heading up the day-to-day business of its city government. In Tom Berry, the city has one of the state’s most respected managers serving as interim general manager. Berry will be leaving that post sooner rather than later, and while Taylor has vowed not to leave the city with key issues hanging in the balance, it would be surprising if the Marine veteran’s tenure stretched much past the end of the new year.

That being the case, city leaders need to ramp up their efforts to find suitable replacements for Taylor and Berry. No one should try and rush either of these gentlemen out the door, but city leaders would be foolish to wait until either is packing his belongings to start searching for a replacement at arguably the two most important positions in city government.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.