ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany City Commissioners voted Tuesday to take a more active role in the running of the city's Aviation and Water, Gas & Light commissions, but the non-binding vote in each case was only 4-3, leaving open the possibility that the outcome could change at the commission's night business meeting next week.
After lengthy debates on each issue, the commission voted to have both the WG&L and the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport directors report directly to the city manager, who would be ultimately responsible for hiring and firing each.
He may have mixed his metaphor, but Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard spoke volumes for the dissenting side during discussion before the vote on the airport director when he said, "It it ain't fixed, don't break it," which he later amended to the common idiom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"My red flag is that when you hire a new airport director, you may not get the best candidate out there if the candidates know that they must report to a city manager rather than an aviation board," Howard said.
For the prevailing side on the issue, Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell and Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines offered counter arguments.
"We need to have some kind of grip on the Aviation Commission, and the city manager is our grip," Postell said, while Hines added, "Being consistent (with each city department) gives us a shelter from anyone saying we didn't treat them the same as other (employees)."
Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta, who voted against both the Aviation and WG&L changes, accused City Attorney Nathan Davis of basing the proposed charter change that would impact the city/WG&L relationship on "the recommendations that he liked."
"Brother Davis appears to have taken the proposals that he liked -- the ones made by Commissioner (Bob) Langstaff -- and incorporated them into his draft without a unanimous vote of this body while leaving out the ones he didn't like ... the ones that I made," Marietta said. "Maybe autonomy is needed, but it appears that we took a sledgehammer to the charter to accomplsih it.
"I believe we could accomplish the same thing with a lighter touch. If we need to address any mismanagement that occurred in the past, we need to do it by demanding better management in the future."
Marietta's comments drew a stinging response from Postell, who said, "Who are you trying to protect, Roger?"
Howard, who also voted against the WG&L proposal, said the move would diminish the WG&L board.
"If this takes place," he said, "there's no reason to appoint anyone to that board. I'm of the opinion that this is not the way to move forward."
Ward V's Langstaff pointed to recent action by WG&L officials -- such as notifying the City Commission "at the 11th hour" about negotiations to purchase the SunTrust Bank building "for $4 million that we don't have" and abandon the utility's current location and reported attempts to sell its fiber optics division without telling city officials about the plan or how much money was spent on fiber installation -- as reasons for closer city scrutiny.
"It's all about information," Langstaff said. "When we are all gone from this board in the future, this is the kind of information those who serve after us will need."
Postell added: "WG&L has been out of line with the City Commission, and that's a bad, bad way to operate. What we're dealing with here is getting something in writing, not hypothetical."
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard joined Marietta and Howard in voting against both matters.
Commissioners briefly talked about three rezoning requests, all on Old Dawson Road. The most controversial involves developer Danny Blackshear's plan to build single-family homes, townhouses and an apartment complex at 3101 Old Dawson. Residents have claimed that the additional housing would make traffic on the road, already heavy at times, unbearable in nearby neighborhoods.
The commission tabled a North Cleveland avenue alley closing request by developers who want to utilize the unused alley for parking at an apartment complex they are developing. Hines said he wanted to contact an adjacent property owner before making a decision on the request.