From left, Albany City Commissioners Bobby Coleman and Jon Howard, and Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson hold a press conference Wednesday to express concern over the recent announcement that the eastside Boys and Girls Club facility would close. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Three Albany and Dougherty County officials took on the roles of “concerned citizens” Wednesday, holding an impromptu news conference to assure East Albany citizens that they are as concerned about the recent closure of the East Albany Boys and Girls Club facilities at 1112 Inverness Road as their constituents.
Wards I and II city commissioners Jon Howard and Bobby Coleman, respectively, and District 3 County Commissioner Clinton Johnson called media representatives together at the downtown Government Center to announce a planned public forum at the 1721 E. Oglethorpe Blvd. Albany Police District building Saturday at 5 p.m. to address rumors that started circulating shortly after the Boys and Girls Club facility was shut down, reportedly due to financial issues and structural damage on the 28-year-old building.
“I want to make it clear from the beginning that neither the City Commission nor the County Commission has anything to do with the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Coleman said. “The three of us are here today as concerned citizens and elected officials. Our constituents started calling us shortly after the Boys and Girls Club in East Albany closed, and most of what we’ve heard is nothing but rumor.
“We thought it would serve the community well to offer our constituents an opportunity to come and hear what actually happened from the people who are privy to that information. Bob Hutchinson from the Boys and Girls Clubs and Sherrell Alexander from Girls Inc. (whose groups share the facility) will be at Saturday’s meeting to answer questions. Why continue to spread rumors when you can get the information first-hand?”
And while the government officials say their primary interest in Saturday’s meeting is dispelling rumors about closure of the facility, they admit their ultimate goal is to see a Boys and Girls Clubs facility return to East Albany for the “25,000 to 30,000 citizens who live on that side of the river.”
“One of the things that arises from any misfortune is an opportunity to get things right,” Johnson said. “We’re not officially involved in this in any way, but we have an opportunity to work together through the city and county governments to show that we all have skin in this game.
“We hope to identify the needs of the Boys and Girls Club program, but at this point their biggest need is a commitment from the community to participate in Saturday’s town hall meeting. And, I stress, this is just a first meeting on this matter. There will be others.”
Howard said he and Coleman had gleaned new information about a possible solution for a number of related problems, including an eastside Boys and Girls Club facility, during a meeting with interim City Manager Tom Berry only moments before Wednesday’s press gathering.
“When the SPLOST VI referendum was passed (in 2010), one of the things the city manager then, Al Lott, did was put aside a certain amount of money for projects in each city ward,” Howard said. “It came to about $1.2 million for each ward. Because so many young black males do not know how to swim, I vowed that before I left office, I would see a public pool built on the east side of town.
“Mr. Berry indicated there may be a way to collaborate so that we have a site location for a new Boys and Girls Club that has enough land for construction of a pool.”
Howard and Coleman said city officials would look over available city-owned property on the eastside on which a Boys and Girls Club and a pool might be jointly located. One of the locations Howard mentioned, ironically enough, is the 1721 E. Oglethorpe location of Saturday’s meeting.
“There’s nothing definite right now,” Coleman said. “But we’ll be looking at land that the city owns to see if there is a location that will take care of all our concerns.”
Coleman said Boys and Girls Club officials have drawn up a tentative plan whereby after-school programs will be conducted once county schools re-open Aug. 4. Students who are part of the program may be bused to Jackson Heights, Morningside or Turner elementary schools and Radium Middle Magnet School.
The officials reiterate, though, that first priority is Saturday’s meeting.
“This is an opportunity to get the right information from the right sources,” Johnson said. “This won’t be me or Commissioner Coleman or Commissioner Howard passing along information. This will come directly from the people involved.”