CARLTON FLETCHER: Political activism involves more than a computer keyboard

OPINION: Primary vote will change the face of local government

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

The best things in life are free, But you can keep ‘em for the birds and bees. I want money.

Barrett Strong

With all the supposed political activism in this community — i.e. people who seemingly have all the answers and don’t mind telling you so — an amazing anomaly jumps out.

A lot less than 50 percent of Dougherty County’s registered voters are expected to cast ballots in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primaries. Some who are aware of the ins and outs of county voters’ habits have said, “Anything above 20 percent would surprise me.”

It seems political activism for many only runs as far as their computer keyboard. When it comes to actually going to the precinct and voting … well, that’s asking a bit much.

What makes such an attitude even more dangerous as Tuesday’s vote approaches is the very real fact that — cliche warning — this may actually be one of the most crucial elections in this community’s, this region’s and this state’s history. In Dougherty County, there will be at least two new members elected to the County Commission. There could be as many as four.

That, if you can do the math, is enough to determine the outcome of every single vote that comes before that board.

The county government, under the guidance of Chairman Jeff Sinyard for the past 11 years, has long been viewed as the more fiscally conservative government entity in the community. Right or wrong, the board’s strategy of tightfistedly holding onto taxpayer money in the face of seemingly endless requests has served it well during the last few years of economic uncertainty.

Commission Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins’ mantra is simple: “If we give money to one, all the others have the right to expect the same thing.”

That has served the commission in good stead as its members have weathered accusations of being “heartless” by not making contributions or allocations to agencies that undeniably do good things in the community.

A perfect example is the recently commission-discussed Albany State University-sponsored National Youth Sports Program. I’ve personally seen the good that program does. I’ve watched kids that might otherwise have been walking the streets of the community in search of summertime activity instead join hundreds of other kids in activities that stimulate their minds as well as their bodies.

I’ve seen up close and personal the satisfied smiles on their faces.

Those smiles made me understand why program coordinators, looking for funding to keep the program afloat, would say, “We’re only asking for $5,000 … or $10,000 … or $15,000. You are in charge of a budget that runs in the tens of millions of dollars.”

I can also understand why deserving organizations like the Flint RiverQuarium, Girls Inc., the SOWEGA Council on Aging, the Civil Rights Institute, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Boy Scouts, the King Day Foundation and many others in the community have a tough time dealing with the fact that they might be turned down for funding requests that are relatively small and could help make a positive difference in the community.

But the county board has held fast, refusing all requests based on the simple premise that giving just one of these deserving groups taxpayer funding would open the floodgates for dozens and dozens of such requests. Then the question becomes: What justification is there — other than personal preference — for giving to one group and not another? Or another? Or another?

The seven community citizens on the County Commission — and the Albany City Commission and the Dougherty School Board — are elected by the people of the community to serve those people’s best interests. Is that interest served by randomly handing out taxpayer funds to help with even the most worthy of causes? That’s a question elected officials — the new ones and the ones who have been in office for years — should ask themselves every time they sit in on a meeting and consider such requests.

And it’s a question non-voting registered voters should consider Tuesday as they sit at their computer keyboards, uninvolved but waiting on returns so they can tell the people who did vote just how wrong they got it.