Albany City Commissioner Bobby Coleman, left, and Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson are working together on projects that impact their shared constituents in east Albany. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson and Albany City Commissioner Bobby Coleman offered reassurances this week that they are still working together to help solve some of the problems of their shared constituents.
The pair talked Wednesday with The Albany Herald about their ongoing efforts to improve the eyesore/hazard that is the East Broad Avenue underpass and to help facilitate the re-opening of a Boys and Girls Club facility in East Albany in the wake of the closure last month of a deteriorating building that had housed the club for decades.
“There’s no sense in waiting until the (Broad Avenue) bridge is open to complete the work on that underpass,” Coleman, who represents the city’s Ward II, said. “Once the bridge opens, there’s going to be more traffic coming through there. We’ve got about 10 months before we finish the bridge, and it makes more sense to finish what needs to be done in that time.
“Once the bridge is open, it’s going to be more of an inconvenience for our citizens. Both of us have been contacted by citizens who were excited to see work being done at that site after we first brought this issue up. They say they don’t mind the inconvenience knowing their tax money is being spent in a way that benefits them.”
Johnson, who said he’s confident in the county’s willingness to pitch in financially for repairs on the underpass that is in the heart of his District 2, admits to being frustrated by the “lack of momentum” on the project.
“There were improvements made on the roadway; the potholes were filled in and there was some resurfacing,” Johnson said. “But no dirt has been moved around the site, no shrubbery has been tended, no lights fixed. And, as far as I know, there are no plans in place to make these changes.”
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said progress on improvements to the underpass has been slowed by railroad officials who must sign off on any work done on or near its rail bed.
“We’ve been working with the railroad on this forever,” Hubbard said. “We’re making some progress, and by the time we open the bridge next year, we hope to have that underpass completely reworked. But any work we do has to be approved by the railroad.”
Coleman said the belief among citizens is that the city is not moving quickly enough.
“The railroad has given permission (for improvement work),” he said. “They’ve done what they need to do. The concensus I’m hearing is that the city is dragging their feet.”
Johnson and Coleman talked with The Herald in April about the condition of the East Broad Avenue underpass, which is a gateway into Albany’s downtown for many who live on the east side of the Flint River. They noted the uncontrolled growth of vegetation around the underpass, the amount of trash that litters the surrounding area and the absence of working lights along a mostly hidden pathway on the northern side of East Broad.
“The absence of lights along this path presents a danger for anyone who might be walking along here, especially after dark,” Johnson said.
The officials said improvements made on the roadway only serve to accentuate the shabby condition of the area around the overpass.
“It’s like Commissioner Johnson said when we talked earlier: ‘People traveling west-to-east through the underpass must think they’re entering a third-world country,’” Coleman said. “That’s why it’s important for our shared constituents to see that we’re working together on this. Too long politicians in this community have worked with the mindset that they should cater to cliques, to certain interest groups. Good government, though, is where the masses of the people benefit.”
Johnson said he wants to do away with the “either/or” mindset that has plagued local politics for decades.
“What we need to start considering is that anything that benefits Dougherty County is going to benefit Albany,” he said. “What’s good for one is good for the other. It’s ridiculous for (county commissioners) not to work with the city to get things done.”
The pair said rumors continue to run rampant on the eastside that the city has abandoned youths in wake of the Boys and Girls Club closure. But Johnson and Coleman insist progress is being made.
“We’ve had some encouraging conversations with (interim City Manager) Tom Berry and with (Boys and Girls Club Chief Professional Officer) Bob Hutchinson about this situation, and things are moving forward,” Coleman said. “For all the people spreading rumors about nothing being done, I want to assure them that myself, Commissioner Johnson, (city) Commissioner (Jon) Howard and (county) Commissioner(-elect Anthony) Jones are very interested in making sure this gets done.”
Johnson said the priority concern — the young people who utilize the club — is being taken care of.
“The children are still being served, and that’s the main thing,” he said. “Now we need to get a facility in place. We’re all working together to make sure resources are available.”
Coleman said those complaining about a supposed lack of progress did not have the best interest of the community’s young people at heart.
“For a lot of folks spreading these rumors, it’s all about egos,” he said. “They’re spreading misinformation with no consideration for how it’s affecting the young people. The kids are our primary concern, and as Commissioner Johnson said, we’re meeting their needs. When the time is right and we find the right location, we’ll start shoveling dirt.”
The officials said Hutchinson will offer an update on progress being made on the facility at a community meeting Sept. 6. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the 1721 E. Oglethorpe Blvd. Police Precinct building.