A1 A1
Marietta: I'm a career public servant, not a career politician

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a series of articles about the candidates seeking office in the city of Albany’s Nov. 5 municipal election.

ALBANY — You have to know Roger Marietta to appreciate some of the things he says. The Albany State University professor and Ward IV Albany City Commissioner is quick to laugh or to poke fun at himself and some of the issues that spring up with the commission.

But, Marietta notes, “There’s usually at least some — often a lot — of truth in humor.”

Marietta may joke about “the three women who run Albany: Mayor (Dorothy) Hubbard, (City Manager) Ms. (Sharon) Subadan and (fellow commissioner) B.J. Fletcher,” but he admits that there’s an element of commonsense in his comment.

“We have a commission that works well together, but for us guys, the sooner we realize that these strong women are in charge, the quicker we can get things done,” Marietta says and adds his trademark chuckle. But then, after he talks about Hubbard’s vision, Subadan’s penchant for bringing about change and “always wanting to be on the same team” as Fletcher, he notes that the commission has been able to bring about more infrastructure upgrades than at any other time in recent city history.

“This is not a group that kicks things down the road,” the history professor says. “A lot of stuff was just passed over in the past out of ignorance of the implications. This board, I think, gets it. And we get it because we’ve all been through all these storms together, four presidentially-declared disasters in three years.”

That’s why, the Ward IV incumbent says, he’s working his re-election campaign around the theme “Preparing for the Next Storm.”

“Look, this is not political, but global warming is impacting us, and it should be on everyone’s minds,” Marietta said. “I think a lot of people have always said after some kind of devastating weather event, ‘It won’t happen to us again.’ Anyone who’s lived in Albany the last few years knows now that is just not true.

“That’s why I think the infrastructure improvements we’ve approved over the past few years — alleys, sewers, utilities, sidewalks, lighting, street repairs — have us better prepared to face the next storm.”

Marietta faces a familiar foe for his Ward IV seat: businessman Chad Warbington. Warbington, who has served on a number of city-appointed boards, challenged the incumbent for the same seat four years ago. He’s stirred up Marietta supporters a great deal by referring to his opponent as a “career politician.”

“Chad or anyone else can call me a career public servant, but not a career politician,” Marietta said. “I was a Navy officer for six years and an Army planner for five more, and I’m in my 28th year of teaching (at Darton College, which was unified with Albany State University by the state Board of Regents two years ago). That’s around 12 years of serving the federal government in the Navy and Army and 28 years as a state employee in the University System.

“I won’t get into a political mud-slinging match with Chad — I kind of did that four years ago when he made false claims about my commission expense account — because I’ve learned — this is my 10th political campaign — that people do that when they know they’re behind. I will say that his idea of privatizing specific neighborhoods, like the one he lives in, won’t work because it would add significant yearly maintenance fees to every homeowner in that neighborhood. Plus roads must be kept open for students who attend public schools in the area.”

Marietta noted that jobs are available in the community, and filling those jobs would cut into the recent violent crime surge that the city’s seen.

“We’re kind of running out of excuses when we keep saying that there are no jobs for our young people and that leads them to a life of crime,” he said. “But Albany Tech has some specific programs that will put people in jobs right away. What we have to do is take away the allure of gangs. And that’s something we’ve had success with lately, working with GBI and FBI task forces to put away about 100 (gang members) in our community.”

Marietta laughs that laugh as he talks about the “glamour” of serving on the commission.

“I have to laugh,” he said. “Three weeks before, a lady called about a dead fox in her yard. It was on the weekend, and I couldn’t tell her that Public Works would pick it up on Monday. She didn’t want to hear that, and she didn’t want a dead animal decomposing in her yard all weekend. So I got some gloves and trash bags and picked it up.

“Same thing happened in the Winterwood neighborhood where a car hit a deer. The police put the animal out of its misery, and I dragged the deer to the edge of someone’s yard. But I knew no one wanted a six-point buck laying in their yard, so I went out early the next morning, loaded it on my truck and hauled it off.”

The professor shares other similar stories, and it’s clear that he’s not one of those politicians afraid to get his hands dirty. In fact, he admits to being “a little OCD” about litter, which he picks up frequently in his northwest Albany neighborhood.

“I’m asked often, ‘Why would anybody want to be a city commissioner?’” Marietta says. “But I think you have to have a servant’s heart to do this for any period of time. I feel like we’ve helped make some improvements in Albany that have us moving in the right direction. That’s why you become a city commissioner, to help make your community better.”

One year later: Community still recovering from powerful Hurricane Michael

Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a series of stories dealing with Hurricane Michael, which slammed into southwest Georgia a year ago, its impact and ongoing recovery efforts.

ALBANY — Albany and southwest Georgia had seen more than their share of weather-related calamity over the past half-century: 500-year floods, deadly tornadoes, devastating straight-line winds, crippling drought, life-threatening heat waves.

But nothing could have prepared residents for the Oct. 10, 2018, devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael. Sea-born storms packing Category 3-level winds are not supposed to sustain themselves over more than 100 miles of landfall.

Michael, though, had other ideas. After making landfall on the Florida Gulf Coast at Mexico Beach, all but wiping out that quaint community, the storm moved on a path that carried it through southwest Georgia, laying waste to major portions of Donalsonville, Bainbridge, Colquitt, Newton, Albany and parts of Leesburg and Cordele before finally losing steam.

A community that had seen two deadly and devastating storms a little more than a year before — part of a region that became a presidentially declared disaster area and was already receiving recovery help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — woke up on Oct. 11 to new destruction that left many to wonder if they’d personally offended God to the point of calling forth His wrath.

Around 90 percent of the customers on the city of Albany’s utility grid lost power, some for as long as eight to 10 days, and the city’s primary water source — wells at Albany Utilities’ Lily Pond Road facility — was threatened and drew the immediate attention of Public Works and utilities crews.

“Of the 52 electric circuits in our system, only three have power,” City Manager Sharon Subadan said on Oct. 11 at a hastily put-together news conference at the Albany Fire Department’s Honeysuckle Drive training facility, where many Albany and Dougherty County officials had hunkered down to monitor the hurricane. “Right now, 24,720 customer accounts have no power — that’s customer accounts, so you can multiply that by families and it’s a big number. We have 31 of our employees working on restoring power, 33 visiting linemen are in the county, 45 more crews are on the way, and when Georgia Power makes a statewide assessment of damages, they’re going to let us know what’s available.

“Our No. 1 priority right now, though, is our wells. We’re working to assure that we don’t lose our water infrastructure. If (contamination levels) go below 20 psi, we’ll have to shut it down. EPD is recommending a precautionary boil-water notice, but that’s not really practical right now when more than 90 percent of the people in the city have no electricity.”

Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach as a Category 5 storm, with peak, sustained winds estimated at 160 mph. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall along the Florida panhandle. When it entered southwest Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane, packing wind gusts as high as 115 mph, it became the first major hurricane to directly hit Georgia since the 1890s.

The storm caused extensive destruction throughout its path, which included substantial agricultural production areas. Before the hurricane hit, the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture estimated the market value of agricultural products sold in Georgia to be $9.6 billion. Those sold in Florida were valued at $7.4 billion.

Immediately after the hurricane, experts from the University of Georgia and the University of Florida estimated that losses to agricultural production exceeded $2.5 billion in Georgia and $1.4 billion in Florida.

Local officials who had been through several weather-related upheavals while serving the area were left to ponder this latest display of Mother Nature’s wrath.

“There is not a single human being that I know of in this county who has power right now that is not being supplied by a generator,” Dougherty Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said on the day after the storm. “Mayor (Dorothy) Hubbard and I are already advocating for any help we can get from our federal partners, but we’re literally assessing the problems as we go.

“I never dreamed when I moved here that I’d experience a Category 3 hurricane 120 miles from the coast. Our infrastructure is just not designed to withstand that kind of destruction. But our citizens have shown tremendous resilience and self-reliance. I have no doubt that we’ll come out of this ‘Albany Even Stronger.’”

Some of Michael’s most devastating blows were endured by southwest Georgia farmers. More than a few simply went out of business or permanently stopped farming.

In addition to crop loss, Hurricane Michael inflicted catastrophic damage to farmhouses, outbuildings, equipment, fencing, irrigation systems and perennial plantings. As a result, the ag sector faced mounting costs for cleanup, replacements and repairs. Unfortunately for these people whose livelihoods literally hung in the balance as time to prepare for the new planting season drew closer, partisan political bickering in Washington kept vital farm disaster relief from being approved until almost a year after the storm hit.

Many farmers are just now trying to work their way through the tedious process of securing funding to make up for losses that for many wiped out a full year’s worth of labor.

“There was one of the crops my brother and I had grown that we were looking to make a six-figure profit on this year,” Lee County farmer Justin Jones said. “As it turned out, we had a seven-figure loss. We had more than 80 percent loss of our pecan crop.”

Pecans were among Michael’s hardest hit agricultural victims. As Alex Willson of Sunnyland Farms explained, the devastation will play out over years, not weeks and months.

“The trees that were lost, you don’t grow them back in a year or two,” he said. “After you go through the cost of cleaning up, you have to replant. It’s then from six to 10 years before you start to see any pecans on the new trees.”

When power was restored in the region, weary southwest Georgians began — again — the process of cleaning up and, for many, starting over.

Volunteer groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, disaster recovery centers, disaster recovery teams, the Army and Air National Guard and donation collections were all vital to the recovery efforts.

Dougherty County EMA Deputy Director Jenna Chang told the Dougherty County Commission that the recovery process would likely take longer than expected due to the widespread impact.

“All our surrounding neighbors are in the same shape we are in,” Chang said.

Now, a year later, recovery continues. Blue tarp-covered homes are still a common site, and holes exist where residential and business structures once stood. The federal and state governments, both quick to promise their support in the immediate aftermath of the storm, have been slow to get needed funding to individuals and agencies now left in limbo.

Many of the hardest hit have moved on, looking for a new beginning elsewhere. Others trudge forward, not quite sure if their lives will ever resume a level of normalcy. But there is always hope, city and county officials have assured the storm-weary population. They continue to call on the strength and will of a resilient population.

As Hubbard said on the day after Michael hit, “This is a devastating storm. But we’re a strong community, and we’ll get through it. Just like we got through it before.”

One year later: Devastating change in a community that doesn't change

Editor’s Note: Following is the first of a four-part series on the devastation Hurricane Michael wrought on the Mexico Beach, Fla., community, which is frequented by many southwest Georgians.

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Summer’s end 2018 ... Labor Day has come and gone. The summer tourist tango ended for the season. It’s just the “locals’ and those of us “lifers” captivated by this place since youth.

We work like crazy all week, breathlessly anticipating the first look at the water at the end of Highway 386 on Friday. To feel the Gulf breeze on our face and smell the salty spray as the waves meet the beach ... that’s why we work to make the trip yet again. Yep, those of us who are lifers may make the trek every weekend, once a year or once a decade — sometimes life intercedes — the length of time between visits does not change that first look and the gratitude felt at seeing again.

Through the years, things at Mexico Beach have stayed relatively constant as time marched forward. This piece of the “Forgotten Coast” stayed tucked away largely unchanged by the outside world. Not that there hasn’t been change.

Gone for years now are Mexico Beach Grocery, with its slamming screen door; the Sandman Motel, with the beautiful views of sun, sand and water from its picture windows; the Islander RV Resort, where so many families enjoyed making beach memories with their loved ones; the Top of the Gulf Restaurant, where many a delicious meal was enjoyed, and the days of the family-friendly haunted house fundraiser for the Mexico Beach Fire Department. These places and events have long since become just memories.

Life at Mexico Beach always marched on, but the sameness of many landmarks there for decades remained. The familiar faces with welcoming, caring smiles greeted visitors as they returned time after time. The locals who obviously loved their community, and the parts they played in the making of family memories year after year became very important to the visitors they greeted.

The comforting appearance of the quaint Mexico Beach community was changed forever at 12:30 p.m. CDT on Oct. 10, 2018, as Hurricane Michael made landfall. This natural fury made landfall as what was deemed at the time a Category 4 hurricane but later actually defined as a Category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Michael brought high winds, heavy rain and tremendous and deadly storm surges that left in its wake massive destruction. This hurricane left monumental debris, destroyed and damaged buildings, downed power lines and destroyed forests to a degree almost incomprehensible to the human mind.

This Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 160 mph, pounded the piece of paradise that is Mexico Beach relentlessly, destroying decades of local landmarks treasured by so many locals and visitors.

Hurricane Michael is the strongest storm in recorded history to have made direct landfall on the northeast Gulf Coast. That storm changed our piece of paradise incredibly. Gone now is the beach cottage where I watched my children grow into the fine young adults that they have become. My sweet Daddy, who taught me to love the coast, is watching from Heaven these days, and Smokey, the big, black cat who loved long, lazy days at the coast, is watching from across the Rainbow Bridge as the community we all love struggles to regain normalcy.

The destruction left by Michael physically hurts to see.

The community of Mexico Beach, the place that never changes, the place that time has allowed to remain the same for decades, is now changed forever. The devastation left as Hurricane Michael’s legacy is forever etched on the hearts of those who love this small community with a big heart. But those of us who love it know that Mexico Beach will become whole again, find a new normal that welcomes visitors, because this place and its people are stronger than the storm.

ASU homecoming week in full swing

ALBANY – With Albany State University’s homecoming week in full swing, much of the city has erupted into blue and gold leading up to Saturday’s big parade and football game.

In a vending booth set up at the College Corner convenience store along Radium Springs Road, James Dozier has sold his homecoming wares for 10 years. Dozier, an Atlanta resident, operates Cameron’s Gear.

On Wednesday, customers browsed T-shirts, jerseys and leggings, many with ASU colors, to take home as a homecoming memento.

“We are officially licensed with Albany State, so we are officially licensed vendors for the university,” said Dozier, a Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University graduate who also is a vendor for 19 other historically black colleges and universities. “Some of the funds go back to the university.”

Dozier, who designs the leggings and some of the other clothing, said he is hoping for a better year than 2018, when homecoming week was turned on its head by Hurricane Michael.

“The storm last year really threw things off, with them playing the game at a high school instead of the (ASU) stadium,” he said. “It’s been going pretty good this year.”

For Leslie Bryant, the booth gave her an opportunity to add to the collection of homecoming items she has been collecting for more than two decades since her graduation from ASU in 1992.

“I come every year and get a new shirt,” she said.”

Bryant, a Tifton resident, also will be at the Wednesday-night street fair starting at 8 p.m. in the 100 block of Pine Avenue.

Homecoming is a part of her life because it gives her the opportunity “to see a lot of alumni to come back and participate and to support their alma mater,” she said.

“I also like to talk to the new students to tell them what the school did for me and how it will help them throughout their life.”

In addition to the street fair, other homecoming events on Wednesday include a paint-and-chill party at Pretoria Fields Brewery and an educator appreciation drop-in social at The Flint Restaurant next door. Both events will run from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and a blue and gold line dance class will be conducted at 7 p.m. at 100 Pine Ave.

Thursday events include the annual ASUNAA Golf Tournament from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at Stonebridge Country Club and the royal court coronation from 6-7:30 p.m. at the ASU West Campus J Building.

A homecoming convocation and pep rally is scheduled at 10 a.m. Friday at the Albany Civic Center, and the homecoming parade kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday in downtown Albany.

For a complete list of events, visit, www.asurams.edu/homecoming.