American flags adorn the downrtown information sign in front of the Flint RiverQuarium on Independence Day. Dougherty County Commission Ewell Lyle has been named to the aquariums board of directors, but he says he has no plans to advocate for public funding for the facility. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)
ALBANY — Dougherty County Commissioner Ewell Lyle said Thursday his recent appointment to the Flint RiverQuarium Board of Directors is not an indication that he will advocate for county funding to supplement the downtown attraction’s income.
Lyle was one of four new members added recently to the RiverQuarium board. Others are Marci Prisant, Chase Harvard and Barbara Rivera Holmes.
“There is a clear understanding (with RiverQuarium officials) that I do not intend to advocate to either the state or the county for funding,” said Lyle, who is seeking re-election to the County Commission’s District 4 seat in the Nov. 4 general election. “At no time did I mislead anyone into thinking that.
“My interest in serving on the board comes from my involvement with the Department of Natural Resources. I visited Albany a few times while the RiverQuarium was being built, and I was down here a while (from his Atlanta-based office) during the Flood of ‘94. I had no idea that I would eventually live here. After a recent commission meeting, I was talking with (County Commission Chairman) Jeff Sinyard and (RiverQuarium Director) Tommy Gregors and questioned why the county did not have a representative on the (aquarium’s) board. That’s where this started.”
The RiverQuarium’s volunteer CEO/Board Chairwoman Emily Jean McAfee said Lyle was recruited for a position on the board because of his DNR ties.
“We are constantly looking for new members that bring strength to our board,” McAfee said. “We are pleased to bring on new members who bring their own unique capabilities to our very diverse board.
“Ewell’s connections with and knowledge of the state DNR were keen interests for the board.”
The District 4 Republican commissioner, who faces Democrat Pat Garner in the general election, said residents in the community who decry the county’s refusal to designate budget funding for the RiverQquarium are misguided.
“In the most recent SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax), the county allocated a half-million dollars in funds for RiverQuarium projects,” he said. “The city is not the only (government entity) contributing to the RiverQuarium.”
McAfee said the aquarium board is appreciative of the Albany City Commission’s recent vote to allocate $200,000 in budget funds to the venue.
“Public funding is an important part of our three-legged financial stool,” she said. “The city’s allocation is a signal to other (potential donors), but it’s a good investment, too. It allows us to move forward without uncertainty, without being in a timid state.”