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Smith: We need to improve Albany's image
Albany native Leroy Smith returned to the city in 2007, seeing unmet needs

ALBANY — When Leroy Smith came back to Albany, he said he saw a disconnect between the residents and local community.

“I looked around and saw a lot of work to be done,” Smith said.

An Albany High School graduate, Smith is from a military family. He was in the Army for 22 years before retiring in 1999. He came back to Albany in 2007 to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Since his return, he said he has been talking to people about their concerns and has coordinated with government officials on the local and state level to get these concerns resolved.

Smith said a sewage infrastructure issue in the Shadowlawn Drive area, the intersection at South Slappey and Oglethorpe boulevards — which required the help of the Georgia Department of Transportation — and an issue involving Carver Avenue have been among the issues that he’s gotten involved in.

That’s the kinds of things that have earned him a reputation for getting things done.

“Folks have called on me to help them,” Smith said.

A perceived disconnect between the city and the residents of Ward VI led Smith to challenge for the seat on the Albany City Commission that is up for grabs during the Nov. 5 municipal election.

Smith briefly attended Darton College following his high school graduation, until he was old enough to join the Albany Police Department.

“I worked there a year and decided it was not my calling,” he said.

The brief stint in law enforcement was followed by his military career, retirement and the return to Albany. During his time in the Army, he has served in a number of capacities, volunteering when needed.

“Wherever I have been, I always have been involved in the community,” Smith said.

During his time in Albany, Smith said he has acted as a private citizen when reaching out to leadership on issues that impacted the community. If elected as a commissioner, he said he will work to move Ward VI in a new direction.

“Ward VI has been without representation for a long, long time,” Smith said. “We have a commitment to join in local government.

“There is great work being done. I want to represent Ward VI to move them in the right direction to get more work done.”

Public safety, sewage improvements and public service are among the things Smith said he would like to tackle if he is elected.

“This city can do a much better job serving the public than they have been,” he said.

The public safety improvements Smith singled out include addressing personnel shortages and bringing in more technology to make the jobs of law enforcement easier — including cameras and monitoring services.

“I believe the police officers in the city of Albany can be more technologically advanced,” Smith said.

Public service issues that have drawn Smith’s attention include maintaining sidewalks that may be buckling, fixing lights that are not functioning and keeping up with the beautification process after Hurricane Michael.

“We could just do a better job in public services,” Smith said.

The commission hopeful said a focus needs to be placed on ensuring Albany has a positive public image, specifically by preventing crime and cleaning up litter on the city’s streets.

“The way people look at the city of Albany is that it is a dangerous place to live,” Smith said. “There are a lot of places not kept very well.”

Parks still needing to be beautified, trash cans tending to overflow, handrails in place not connected to anything, he said, are among the issues people see generally see in the city.

“Once we improve our image, our population will increase, people will stay here, and businesses will want to come here,” Smith said. “Once I get onboard, my goal is to (do) what I can to improve Ward VI.

“I think our community resources are not as bad as (people) think they are.”

Smith said, in the end, strong leadership is all that is needed. But personal ownership also plays a part, he said, in cleaning up the community.

“It’s a large ward geographically and in population size, and for that ward to have gone as long as it has without a voice, that is why it has gotten (like it has)” he said. “I am a proven leader in experience and training, and first and foremost, committed to serve.

“That carries a lot of weight.”

Smith describes himself as someone who likes to shake hands and interact and said he intends to merge that interest into his role as a commissioner if he is elected.

“Community input and feedback play a role,” he said. “I plan on having monthly town hall meetings for Ward VI. It’s the feedback I need to be the driving force to serve the community.

“I can’t lead people if I don’t know them. I can’t lead the community if I don’t serve in the community.”


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Albany Fire Department teaches kids fire safety lessons

ALBANY — You want to get the collective attention of a crowd of some 3,000 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds? Play “Baby Shark” on the PA system ... it’ll work like a charm.

Popular songs like the annoyingly catchy shark ditty and hits by Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake had young students from area schools and day care centers singing along and barely able to contain themselves to their seats as they gathered Tuesday morning for the Albany Fire Department’s annual fire prevention program at the Albany Civic Center.

And while the kids — and their teachers and volunteer chaperones — had a blast listening to and wiggling in place to popular tunes and high-fiving mascot-wearing AFD personnel and Albany Technical College fire suppression program students prior to the start of the event, the program was not just a fun day out for the youngsters.

“We do try to add a little fun to the mix, but this is an important education program for our students,” Deputy AFD Fire Chief Sebon Burns said. “We do this event every year, and every year it is the largest single fire safety program in the state. These and other outreach programs are an important part of what we do.”

But, Burns noted, the annual program is not just about teaching the kids to “stop, drop and roll.”

“This event gives us an opportunity to reach a lot of kids, and those kids in turn take what they learn into their homes,” the deputy chief said. “We have other programs that include adults, but the grown-ups actually learn more about fire prevention from their kids than anywhere else.”

Some 20 AFD personel and students from Albany Tech took part in the program.

“It’s important that these kids learn at a young age what they should do in the event of a fire,” Denise Douglas, a teacher in the New Birth Georgia Pre-K program, said. “This is a great way for them to learn about fire safety.”

Samantha McLean and Kathryn Demings, teachers at Dougherty County Pre-K, said the lessons of the AFD program are important to the youngsters.

“It teaches the kids what they need to do to protect themselves if there is a fire,” McLean said.

As for “Baby Shark” attacks ... well, the kids were fine on their own with that one.


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Albany City Commission hears concerns about bus station project

ALBANY – The Albany City Commission on Tuesday approved a $1.2 million design contract for a bus station complex during a meeting at which residents pleaded that the project preserve a historic building at the site.

The commission unanimously approved the hiring of Niles Bolton Associates, with commission members Bob Langstaff and Tommie Postell absent from the meeting.

The multimodal project will serve Albany Transit System and Greyhound busline. The planned 10,000-square-foot structure will be located on 3.5 acres at the southwest corner of West Oglethorpe Boulevard and South Jackson Street.

Plans call for the preservation of the Ritz Theater, built for black patrons, but the future of the adjacent annex building at what is now the Ritz Cultural Center is in jeopardy. The cultural center closed about 10 years ago.

Built for black patrons and opened in 1930, the Ritz Theater is part of a community campaign, “Save the Ritz! Save Harlem!”

“The obligation, we feel, is to preserve and revitalize the Harlem (district),” said Dedrick Thomas, a board member of SOWEGA Rising. “We feel the Ritz is the cornerstone of that revitalization.

“We are not against the bus station coming. We’re only asking that we not only have a new bus structure, but we preserve the rich heritage of the Ritz.”

Another resident told commissioners that the annex is a vital part of the cultural center and that there has not been sufficient notice given to the public for them to make their views known.

City Manager Sharon Subadan said that the question on Tuesday was whether to contract for services with the design firm and that no firm plans are in place for the annex.

Before plans are finalized, “We will bring community members to the table,” she said. “We will do all we can to get input. This will be an absolutely open process”

Residents will have the opportunity to see the proposed design and make their views known before a final design is brought to commissioners for approval

One commissioner suggested a possible way the city can better involve residents in decisions that impact their communities.

Commissioner Roger Marietta recommended hiring an ombudsman to take the city’s message into the community. Often, he said, rumors feed paranoia and misperceptions about what the city is doing.

“Maybe that could be a step we could take in the future, so the fear and paranoia doesn’t spread,” he said. “Putting it on the internet isn’t enough. We need someone to do it in person.”

Informing residents through notes on utility bills that are mailed to homes every month is a potential solution offered by Commissioner B.J. Fletcher.

“I feel that we are doing everything we can do (to) get the message out,” Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said. “What I’m hearing is that maybe we’re not.”

The theater itself is not on the chopping block due to its historical importance, a Niles Bolton representative told the audience. However, the annex is in poor condition. The company is “flexible” and can work with an alternative on the issue, he said.


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Work on housing development for ASU students should 'go vertical' in a month

ALBANY – A section of land where workers have been clearing land adjacent to Albany State University will get even busier in coming weeks as a privately owned student-housing development starts rising from the ground.

On Tuesday, project developer Davis Properties and city and university officials broke ground at the site on Radium Springs Road during an afternoon ceremony. The scheduled completion of the three-building complex is August 2020.

The development will house up to 216 ASU students beginning with the next school year.

“It’s very exciting,” company representative Matt Davis said during an interview following the groundbreaking ceremony. “It was a great turnout.”

Davis said he initially planned a lager project that would have been ready in fall 2021.

“We were asked to redesign the facility and deliver it for ’20,” he said. “It’s to the city’s credit (that) they have made that possible. We’ll probably start to go vertical (building construction) in about a month.

“I can’t say enough about (Albany City Manager) Sharon Subadan. We have had tremendous support from the city, city officials, all the departments.”

ASU has an economic impact of more than $244 million on the region annually, he said, and employs more than 2,800 people.

“So when you think of the trickle-down impact of the 2,800 employees; they eat at restaurants, shop at businesses, they buy homes,” he said.

“I’m just extremely impressed with the leadership of Albany State, President Marion Fedrick and the direction this university is headed. The future is very bright for this university.”

Davis has described the units as somewhat of a mixture of apartment and dorm living, with a pool at the center of the three buildings.

Davis, who recently moved his family to Albany, said he already has other projects in the works in the southwest Georgia area.