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Recently elected Harry James prepared to move into Dougherty commission seat

Contractor won special election May 20 to replace Gloria Gaines on County Commission

Harry James will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Monday as a member of the Dougherty County Commission. (Special Photo)

Harry James will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Monday as a member of the Dougherty County Commission. (Special Photo)

ALBANY — Don’t expect Harry James to be intimidated by his surroundings when he is sworn in as the District 5 representative on the Dougherty County Commission and takes his seat at the commission table for his first meeting Monday morning.

James has been preparing for this moment for the past eight years.

“I started getting ready for (an unsuccessful commission run in) ‘08 in ‘06,” James, a native of Baxley and the owner of the James Unlimited general construction business, said in a recent interview. “I’ve stayed informed ever since, attending commission and committee meetings to keep up with what was going on.

“I believe the better informed you are, the better decisions you’ll make.”

James lost that 2008 commission race, his first, to Gloria Gaines. Ironically, he will replace Gaines in the District 5 seat on Monday. The now-former commissioner stepped down from her position on the board for an unsuccessful run at the commission chairmanship.

James will, in January, become part of a new-look commission that includes recently elected Chairman Chris Cohilas and new District 6 Commissioner-elect Anthony Jones. Cohilas defeated Gaines, and Jones unseated long-time Commissioner Jack Stone. Another incumbent board member, Ward IV Republican Ewell Lyle, faces the Democratic challenge of primary winner Pat Garner in the Nov. 4 general election.

But before he becomes a part of that group, James will serve seven months with the current commission.

“I think because of the last several years, with my attending commission and committee meetings, I’ve built a relationship with the guys on the board now,” James said. “They know my interest is genuine. Even though I’ve had no actual part in it, I have been involved with the work they’ve been doing.

“I believe we’ll have a great working relationship.”

When the three new faces — and possibly four — take their seats at the commission table in January, James believes he will already be capable of helping the newcomers deal with the behind-the-scenes requirements of office-holders.

“The thing about me is I won’t go into office with a preconceived notion of what I’m going to do,” the District 5 commissioner-elect said. “My only plan is to go in and represent the people of District 5 and the citizens of Dougherty County the best I can.

“I think that goes back to being prepared. When I take my seat Monday, I will have already completed three classes on government given by the ACCG (Association County Commissioners of Georgia). I’ve completed classes on county law, human resources and ethics. It goes back again to being prepared.”

James said the budget should take up most of the commission’s attention over the next month as it works to meet a June 30 deadline to have the spending plan in place. After that, he says he’s ready to help tackle whatever issues arise.

“I’ll come to the table informed,” he said. “A lot of constituents don’t understand why you don’t just use the funds that are available for projects that they’re in favor of. If they were more informed, they’d understand that commissioners are confined to voting according to regulations. We have SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) funds that can only be used for SPLOST projects. We have a special services district fund that can only be used for projects in that district.

“That’s hard for people to understand usually because they haven’t been informed. I expect to explain those kinds of things to people who might ask those questions.”

James said his involvement in pushing for inclusion of local small businesses in government projects through the now-defunct city/county Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization office was not about race, but instead about keeping local dollars in the community.

“My main concern was that most county contracts were going to businesses out of town or even out of state,” he said. “I worked to try and engage more local businesses. This wasn’t so much a black or white issue as it was an issue of taxpayer money leaving the county. Once that happens, once the money is taken from the community, it loses its impact.”

James, who moved to Albany as a young adult after leaving Georgia Southern University for family-related reasons, said he’s always been interested in bringing about positive change. That, he said, is why he started preparing for a commission run in 2006 and why he continued to attend meetings after he lost the 2008 election.

“I wanted to help the people of this community,” James said when asked about his involvement. “When you understand the process, you understand that the only way to bring about real change is from the inside. You can’t make changes when you’re on the outside looking in.

“I’m looking forward to serving the people of this community. I’m looking forward to being a part of this commission. One thing about me that people know is that I will not change for anybody, and what I tell you on Monday will still be good on Friday. For however long I serve this community, my only goal is to be remembered as someone who did his best for the people of District 5 and Dougherty County.”

James will be sworn in at Monday’s 10 a.m. commission meeting.