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Complaints at Albany voting location lead to arrest, security precautions
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ALBANY — Dougherty County officials have reacted to long waits and complaints in the first week of early voting by providing a security officer, shade and water for those standing in line.

While updates to the state voting system have cut the wait times, voters can still expect to stand outside due to social distancing precautions meant to reduce the chance of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Voting advocacy groups filed a complaint last week, and Dougherty County Election Supervisor Ginger Nickerson said there have been other complaints. Nickerson asked that The Herald make an Open Records request before providing those complaints.

The complaints also reached Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy, who paid a visit last week to the polling location at 225 Pine Ave., where early voting began on Oct. 12.

Albany City Commissioner Demetrius Young, who is working with Black Voters Matter, referenced that encounter during a Tuesday City Commission meeting. Young said volunteers working with voting advocacy groups were threatened with arrest.

The volunteers were not advocating for a particular party or candidates, but responded when voters were forced to stand outside for several hours as early voting started Monday, he said during a telephone interview.

The group handed out bottled water and snacks and provided umbrellas and chairs.

“People were really struggling,” he said. “We were here to increase voter turnout. We just wanted to ensure people continued to vote and stayed in line. We were playing music to keep people encouraged.”

Some people seemed offended by the Black Voters Matter T-shirts and van logo, Young said.

On Oct. 13, several volunteers affiliated with the effort filed a report with the Albany Police Department about an encounter with a voter. Witnesses said that a woman used racist and vulgar language toward them and displayed a handgun after an encounter, according to police reports.

The reports said that the woman, identified as Sarah Webster, called them dogs at the scene and in a Facebook post and that she displayed a weapon during the encounter.

Webster said the confrontation began after she complained about the proximity of the van, which she estimated at 20 feet from the polling location. Webster said she believes that the group’s activities within 150 feet of the polls violated election laws.

“Hip-hop music was blaring out of the van,” Webster said. “That was annoying to me.”

Webster made a complaint to a poll worker outside and an Albany Police Department employee on a scooter, who told her that she could file a report. Eventually someone asked the group to move the van farther away, which it did.

At that point, Webster said she spoke with Young and questioned the legality of the group’s presence so close to the polling location

“He said he was standing up for the black man. Then he put his hand on me and I flipped out,” said Webster, who added that she has post-traumatic stress disorder from childhood and that being touched or threatened can be a trigger. “The rest of them got riled up at me.

“I told him if he was going to do something for some people, he should do something for all people. People had gathered around me, and they were giving me the mob look.”

Young left, and when a poll worker appeared, Webster, 71, told him that she was having issues with her hips locking up and was allowed to go inside and vote.

“When I got back outside on the sidewalk, a group of 10 people started the same thing,” she said. “I’m sure they called me all kinds of names.”

Webster said she was fearful when she had to pass between the Black Voters matter van and the side of the building.

“I made a remark (that) communism is all fun and games until you have to eat your puppy for dinner,” she said. “They asked me what I said and I repeated it. They chased me to the car. I feel like my life was in danger.”

At that point, Webster said she removed her pistol from her purse and put it on her hip, but did not brandish it or point it at anyone.

Webster said she did make some online Facebook posts, one of which encouraged people to “armor up” in support of the Second Amendment and that harassment has continued. She said she is considering a lawsuit.

“That’s something that’s between me and my attorney,” she said. “It’s definitely something I have thought about, and it’s something I want to pursue.

“When I got home (from voting) it wasn’t over. I have been getting death threats, bullied, called all kinds of names.”

Webster was charged on Wednesday with disorderly conduct based on a warrant issued through the Albany Police Department, which is the investigating agency, Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul said. She was released on bond.

“We reached out, contacted her and she came down to the office,” he said. “She was very compliant and did everything we asked her to do.”

Georgia law prohibits taking a firearm within 150 feet of a polling location, he said. However, weapons are not allowed at locations that are on school property, as is the case with several voting precincts in the county.

The elections board has hired deputy sheriffs to work part-time as security at the downtown early voting location and has asked Sproul’s office to provide security at all 28 precincts for the Nov. 3 election. The office is working through the logistics of how to handle that request.

“We haven’t had any issues lately,” Chief Deputy Terron Hayes said. “We just want a peaceful transfer so you can vote, get in and out, and everybody minds their own business.

“Everyone is safe, and the black voters group is there assisting in ways they can — assisting voters when they’re hot, fatigued. They’re abiding by the 150-foot rule. We’re good so far.”

The sheriff’s office has not threatened to arrest anyone, Hayes said.


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No fair? Exchange Club 'pivots' with Mega Yard Sale

ALBANY — Among the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic in southwest Georgia was the annual Exchange Club Fair. The weeklong gathering at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds along Westover Road draws tens of thousands of fair-goers annually and provides the local Exchange Club with the funding needed to maintain grounds and contribute to worthy local causes.

Without that funding this year, the Exchange Cub is working to, in the words of Media Coordinator Gary Knight, “do whatever we can to keep those doors open.”

A recent audit by the club shows that that’s a lot easier said than done, especially without the income from the fair.

“I talked with our treasurer, and I misspoke when I told you earlier this week that it takes $70,000 a year to keep things going, even if we never open the doors (to the fairgrounds),” Knight said. “It’s actually closer to $90,000.”

That’s why the Friday and Saturday Mega Yard Sale at the exhibition center of the fairgrounds is so important to the club.

“We definitely have expenses,” Exchange Club President Jim Smith said Wednesday as he, Knight and other Exchange Club members staged the massive collection of donated items for the sale, which will be held Friday from 1-6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-until. “We have expenses, and there’s upkeep and maintenance of these grounds. Plus, one of the most important things we do is help fund key nonprofits that help prevent child abuse.”

Friday’s and Saturday’s yard sale should help. As word of the fundraiser spread throughout the community via the club’s 154 members and on traditional and social media sites, donations have poured in. So much so, Knight confides, “If people actually brought in all the stuff they said they were going to donate, we probably wouldn’t have room for all of it.”

And that’s in a 15,000-square-foot covered exhibit center.

“It’s not set in stone yet, but we’re pretty sure we’ll have enough (donated) items to have a second yard sale in a month or so,” Knight said. “And the best thing about this is that it’s not costing us a penny, except for the time and labor of our club members ... that’s a joke because no one gets one dime for their volunteer work.”

To start describing the items for the event would not do the yard sale justice: brand new furniture (“An amazing donation by some folks who didn’t want their name mentioned that really put us over the top,” Knight said.), tools, toys, athletic equipment, shelves, unique furniture items, windows, paintings, cookware, gardening equipment, ... the list goes on and on and on.

“We’ve done smaller yard sales before, but nothing on this scale,” Smith said. “Look at all this. ... It’s quite an undertaking.”

Knight said he didn’t like to “throw out numbers,” but he said the yard sale could bring in “$7,500 on the low end up to $10,000.”

“We’d be very happy with $10,000,” he said.

Exchange Club members will use thermometers donated by the Phoebe Putney Health System to check shoppers at the entrances to the exhibit building, and all club members will wear masks. Masks are encouraged for all shoppers, and a limited number will be available at the event. Social distancing also is encouraged.

“We’ve been given approval (by health officials) to have up to 700 people in here safety, so I don’t think that will be a problem,” Knight said. “But we will monitor it closely.

“This is important to our club because we are a true service club. We stand on our four pillars: Child abuse prevention, Americanism, youth and community service.”


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Outdoor Network announces $22 million Albany expansion, creating 92 jobs
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ALBANY – The Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission, together with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, announced Wednesday the expansion of Outdoor Network in Albany, creating nearly $22 million in capital investment and 92 new jobs for the community.

The growth stems from the consolidation and expansion of the company’s existing call center and distribution headquarters in Albany, as well as the location of an advanced manufacturing operation producing 125-200 HP diesel outboard engines for OXE Diesel.

“Outdoor Network’s continual growth in Georgia is a testament to our pro-business environment, robust logistics network, and highly skilled workforce – all of which help support the state’s manufacturing and distribution industries,” Kemp said in a news release. “Our world-class economic development team remains dedicated to creating jobs for hard-working Georgians in rural Georgia, and we look forward to seeing the opportunities this creates in Albany and throughout the region.”

Headquartered in Albany, Outdoor Network has emerged as an international powerhouse dealer and distributor of marine and powersports equipment and parts, supplying renowned brands including Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki, Can-Am, Mercury, Sea Doo, Evinrude and OXE Marine Diesel Outboards.

“It has been great working with the leadership at Outdoor Network as they, once again, made the decision to ‘Choose Albany’ as the site of their expansion of existing operations, as well as the location of their new manufacturing project,” said Matt Reed, interim president of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission. “We are fortunate to have a partner like Outdoor Network investing in our community and providing well-paying jobs to the citizens of Albany and Dougherty County.”

Of the 92 new jobs, 52 will be created at the distribution and call center to be consolidated and expanded at 1601 South Slappey Blvd. — formerly the site of MacGregor Golf, which has sat privately owned, but vacant, for more than 20 years. The new manufacturing operation of OXE diesel outboard motors will generate an additional 40 manufacturing jobs.

“We are delighted to announce the expansion of Outdoor Network here in Albany. After months of diligent efforts, the EDC has brought this project to realization,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said. “This is great news, as Outdoor Network will be restoring a large industrial property to productive use while creating over 90 good-paying jobs. The city is appreciative of the contributions Outdoor Network has made since coming to Albany in 2012 and is encouraged by the confidence expressed in our community with this historic commitment.”

Outdoor Network first located in Albany-Dougherty County in 2012 with its distribution center and has since created more than 230 jobs and generated more than $4 million in sales tax revenue for Dougherty County and the state of Georgia.

“Outdoor Network has continued to see growth since locating in Dougherty County, and we are proud to continue that success with this expansion,’ Dougherty County Commission Chair Christopher Cohilas said. “Doing business in Dougherty County makes sense; and Outdoor Network knows that from experience. Our talent, infrastructure and business-friendly environment position Albany-Dougherty County to support industry at any stage, and we’re excited to see this company take its next step in our community.”

“We are so pleased that Outdoor Network has chosen Albany and Dougherty County as their site for expansion and appreciate their investment in our community,” Cynthia Georgia, the ADEDC board chair, said. “Outdoor Network has seen the benefits of doing business in Albany firsthand, and their decision to choose our community is a testament to their experience here. Choosing Albany as the site of their new motor manufacturing operation validates our competitiveness as a business destination.”

Senior Project Manager Tina Herring represented the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce division on this competitive project in partnership with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission and Georgia Power.

“While we promote Georgia as a location for companies from all over the world, it makes us extremely proud to see a Georgia business grow at home. Since 2012, Outdoor Network has been creating opportunities for the people of southwest Georgia, and I want to thank them for their continued commitment to our state as we work on providing the best business climate for them to be successful,” GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson said. “I’m grateful to our local partners at the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission who are great partners and have helped foster the state’s long-term relationship with Outdoor Network.”

Outdoor Network is the world’s largest original equipment manufacturer distributor of marine and powersports parts, and maintains six marine and powersports dealerships across the Southeastern United States, including Powersports Plus in Albany and Boaters World in Lee County. The company has distribution facilities in Georgia and Nevada.

In 2019, Outdoor Network became the North American distributor of OXE Marine Outboard Diesel Motors, and will now be the company’s sole manufacturer of 125-200 HP motors, which will be manufactured exclusively in Albany for worldwide distribution.


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Phoebe Pharmacy team honored for work during pandemic
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ALBANY – The Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Pharmacy team was honored by the Georgia Society of Health System Pharmacists for its outstanding response during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GSHP presented the Phoebe Putney Health System Pharmacy Staff and Corporate Director of Pharmacy Services Marty Kelvas with its 2020 Outstanding Community Volunteer Service Award.

“In my 44 years as a pharmacist, I have never seen a team work so hard and work so well together,” Kelvas said in a news release. “They overcame unimaginable challenges with incredible ingenuity and a compassionate commitment to our patients, and I could not be more proud of them.”

The award is presented annually to a GHSP member who has demonstrated significant contributions to his or her local community outside of normal job duties. The Phoebe Pharmacy team was praised for taking on extra shifts and working around the clock to obtain critical medications at a time when southwest Georgia had one of the highest per capita outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world.

In announcing the award, GHSP Past President Jennifer Stern-Allison said, “Medication dispensing was reorganized to provide nurses the medications they needed. Additional critical care units were created and quickly set up and stocked by the pharmacy. Pharmacy took the lead in developing protocols for the management of COVID-19. Working side by side with physicians and nurses, they provided consistent care, assisted with making drug therapy choices in the face of critical drug shortages and rapidly changing medical information.”

The American Society of Health System Pharmacists declared Oct. 18-24 National Pharmacy Week to acknowledge the contributions that pharmacists and technicians make to patient care in hospitals, outpatient clinics and other health care settings.

“We are fortunate at Phoebe to have an amazing group of highly trained and dedicated pharmacy professionals,” Phoebe Putney Health System Chief Administrative Officer Brian Church said. “The work they did during the height of our COVID-19 fight, procuring and managing medication to ensure so many critically ill patients got the care they needed, was nothing short of heroic.”

The Phoebe Pharmacy staff is made up of 58 pharmacists, 56 pharmacy techs, four residents, one intern and four University of Georgia Pharmacist Faculty. The department includes licensed pharmacies at all four Phoebe hospital campuses as well as an employee pharmacy, a hematology/oncology pharmacy at both Phoebe Main and Phoebe Sumter, and a new Phoebe specialty pharmacy that will open within the next month. The department also administers a 340b drug discount program and indigent drug assistance services at all four hospitals. The team processed 5,818,824 medication orders this past fiscal year to patients at Phoebe hospital campuses.