Dougherty County officials say one of their primary concerns going into 2014 is continued support of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany. (File photo)
ALBANY — Much of the talk about the Dougherty County government of late has not necessarily focused on 2014 but more so on what’s going to happen beyond the end of the year.
Long-time Dougherty Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard stunned many in the community in January when he announced at a commission meeting that he would not seek re-election at the end of the year. Sinyard has served on the commission for 15 years, 11 as chairman, and he is recognized throughout the state as one of the county’s most key salesmen.
“It was just time,” Sinyard said of his pending departure. “It’s time for me to devote more of my time to my family and my business. The time has come for me to be less of a leader, more of a cheerleader.”
Sinyard’s decision to step down has set into motion a series of events guaranteed to change the face of the commission at the end of the year. District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines will leave her seat to run for the chairmanship, and District 6 Commissioner Jack Stone is expected to get a strong challenge from former county 4-H Director Anthony Jones. Two other seats — District 2 and District 4 — are also up for re-election.
But Sinyard warns that county leaders cannot get caught up in looking too far forward. There is, he notes, business at hand that must be taken care of.
“There are plenty of things that we’ll have to contend with during this year,” the commission chairman said. “Just as it is every year, putting together a good budget without raising taxes will be our top priority. Certainly there are issues when it comes to a countywide spending plan, but some of our biggest budget concerns are in the unincorporated portion of the county.”
In pondering the coming year and its priorities for the county government, Sinyard dares even to throw out the dreaded “c-word.”
“I’ve said all along, and I still believe, the taxpayers of this community should be allowed to determine whether they want to consolidate the city and county governments,” he said, bringing up a lingering issue that was essentially killed when the County Commission voted not to move forward with the consolidation measure. “Even if the city and county do go forward with this process, it’s going to take several years — maybe as many as 10 — for a consolidated government to operate efficiently.”
Stone, who has adamantly and defiantly opposed consolidation, remains steadfast in his opposition.
“I stand firmly against consolidation, just as I always have,” the District 6 commissioner said. “All of the people in my district think I’m right, and they’ve told me to stick with my guns. My constituents say — and I agree — that if they were given a fair opportunity to determine whether or not to consolidate the governments, they would be OK with it. But as it’s set up, it’s the city who would make the final decision. And they don’t want that.”
Sinyard said one of his primary concerns in looking at the communitywide picture is the inefficiencies that exist.
“We as government leaders have to look for those inefficiencies,” he said. “For instance, we have 15 agencies in the community that deal directly with teenage pregnancy. There has to be a more efficient way to deal with these problems that plague us.”
Like Sinyard, other county commissioners are adamant in their desire to see a community wide cleanup.
“I applaud the efforts of groups like Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful and the many volunteers who’ve worked to try and keep our community clean,” District 2 Commissioner John Hayes said. “Sadly, there are so many in our community who take no pride in the place that they live. I saw young people in my hometown (Thomasville) with brooms sweeping up debris downtown on a Saturday afternoon when they could have been doing plenty of other things. That’s the kind of spirit and commitment we need from our young people and others in our community.”
Sinyard said he expects Sheriff Kevin Sproul and Col. John Ostrander, who is director of the Dougherty County Jail, to continue their efforts to keep the inmate population down at the facility. Ostrander recently announced that the inmate population had decreased from more than 1,100 to around 800.
“That’s the lowest (population) we’ve had in quite some time,” Ostrander said. “I think that speaks well of the efforts of law enforcement throughout the city and county.”
Sinyard said the decrease is a plus for the county.
“When we were up there around 1,100, we were looking at building a state-mandated pod onto the jail,” Sinyard said. “That’s why it’s so important that our crime statistics are down. We as a commission have got to do all we can to support the sheriff’s office, the county police, the district attorney’s office and our judges to make sure they operate as efficiently as possible.”
The commission chairman said economic development and other vital issues will occupy the commission’s attention during the year, but he warned that he and his colleagues could not let those concerns detract from the needs of the Marine Corps Logistics Base.
“Defense cuts are a major part of the national dialog now, so we have to continue to focus on the needs of the base,” Sinyard said. “That’s why their gas-to-energy partnership with our landfill is so important. That’s one of the most successful programs of its kind throughout the military, and the fact that they have set standards is a feather in our cap when defense cuts are discussed.”