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Albany's downtown recognized with 'Classic Main Street' designation
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ALBANY — Keeping downtown Albany up and running during a pandemic was the theme for Lequrica Gaskins in 2020, but the work was rewarded with a second consecutive year of recognition of the city as an accredited Main Street program.

Albany was one of 889 nationally accredited Main Street programs across the country.

Gaskins, Albany’s downtown manager, said that earning the designation was a goal when she took the position in 2019.

Since the first year of recognition, the city has been upgraded from affiliate to “Classic Main Street” status.

The work done during the pandemic “absolutely” kept some businesses operating, she said. After COVID-19 struck in March 2019 the city worked to make sure retailers in the downtown area had the resources they needed to survive.

Downtown Albany’s performance is annually evaluated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Office of Downtown Development & Georgia Main Streets, which works in partnership with Main Street America to identify the local programs that meet 10 national performance standards, according to the city of Albany. Evaluation criteria identify the communities that are building meaningful and sustainable revitalization programs and include standards such as, fostering strong public-private partnerships, documenting programmatic progress, and actively preserving historic buildings.

“The downtown manager’s office took the lead on working in collaboration with other agencies that provide resources to small businesses,” Gaskins said.

That work included informing business owners of available state and federal grants as well as initiating a local grant program. Gaskins said she sent out regular notices informing businesses of what was available and how to apply, and she said she conducted workshops as well.

“We were giving them the information, giving them the contact information, so they could submit a solid application,” Gaskins said. “It took us working together to make sure our business knew of the the resources that were coming down the pipeline.

“In a year that has brought many challenges to small businesses and the tourism industry, our downtown has remained united and resilient.”

Camellias in Albany park unveiled by work of Alabama church group, neighbors
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ALBANY — It would have been impossible on Wednesday morning to identify once-tended camellia bushes at Hilsman Park, but a group of Alabama teenagers helped uncover part of the buried treasure known as “Tip’s Garden.”

The marker and plaque identifying A.L. “Tip” Tipson’s work as part of a now defunct men’s garden club also was hidden by other plants prior to the efforts by the mission group from the Trinity Methodist Church of Prattville, Ala.

The group, dispatched to Albany as part of Mission:Change, had already walked dogs and helped clean up at the Albany Humane Society shelter, served food to the homeless and assisted Fredando Jackson with his community feeding program in their first two days.

On Wednesday, the 14 were joined by neighbors from the Palmyra Heights area and members of SOWEGA Master Gardeners in the clean-up effort organized by Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful.

“This is my third or fourth one I’ve been on,” 18-year-old Mason Williams said of the mission trip. “It’s good to help the people who need your help. (Today) we’re cleaning the underbrush and the vines on the trees.”

The camellia garden that lines one side of the park, known to long-time residents as “the sinkhole,” only recently was taken over by sticker vines and fast-growing Chinese tallow, also known as “popcorn trees,” said Chip Battle, who lives next door to the park and whose property borders an alley and the camellia garden.

Battle, who was helping remove the unwanted plant growth with the church group, said that as many as 100 pine trees were felled by a January 2017 tornado. The city of Albany removed the trees but with the stumps protruding from the ground and littering the area, maintenance fell to the wayside.

“Before that the city would mow it,” he said. “I’d come out and keep the bushes out of the garden.”

The group was able to uncover only a small portion of the garden, but Battle said he hopes the work continues and the city resumes maintenance.

“It’s really an asset to the city, and I’m glad the neighbors have shown an interest in it,” Battle said. “It’s a nice camellia garden when it’s cleaned up. It can be a very nice garden.”

Ultimately, one goal is to have the garden placed on the state’s Camellia Trail list, said SOWEGA Master Gardeners member Elaine Gurley.

Members, who are University of Georgia Extension Service volunteers, come out once a month to work in the camellia area, said Albert Sanders, president of the group.

Judy Bowles, executive director of Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful, said it was great to see the flowering plants re-emerge once the covering growth was removed. Bowles, who grew up a few blocks from the park, also said she liked the coming together of volunteers from the church group and nearby residents.

“The beauty of this (is) there are five neighbors out here working with these volunteers, which is always awesome,” she said.

Opposition develops to vehicle restrictions in Lee County
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LEESBURG – A number of interesting topics of discussion was on the agenda for Tuesday’ Lee County Commission Meeting and a subsequent Road Committee meeting; however, the most interesting topic with potential impact on the county took place behind closed doors when the board entered into executive session to “discuss potential pending litigation”.

Following the passage of a motion to go into executive session, the board met for approximately 30 minutes. Although not specified in the motion, recent actions would suggest that the behind-closed-doors session was in response to the potential lawsuits related to Commissioner John Wheaton’s public statements regarding former Co-county Manger Mike Sistrunk following his resignation.

One item on the agenda had a seemingly euphemistic terminology, “… (A) public hearing regarding a proposed Text Amendment (TA21-002) to Chapter 70, Article III of the Code of Ordinances of Lee County relating to prohibited (vehicles) in residential districts under (the aforementioned section) of the zoning code.”

This hearing addressed the dominant issue of discussion during the commission’s May 11 meeting relating to recommended changes to county zoning regulations by the County Planning Commission in regard to the parking and storage of commercial vehicles in residential areas of Lee County.

A second reading of the agenda item by Chairman Billy Mathis was required due to faulty audio. Commissioner Rick Muggeridge offered the following translation of the agenda item: “It’s about the trucks in excess of 10,000 pounds”.

Following this clarification, Mark Smith rose to address the Board.

“We had a pretty lengthy discussion about this matter at the (Planning Commission) meeting,” Smith said. “I feel like I can speak for those people. ... We didn’t get the news out to people where they could turn out this evening. I just think that I’d like to speak on behalf of those guys.

“This is a county of working people. ... I don’t think we should be doing this to our work force.”

Smith went on to reiterate that the issue stretches beyond mere convenience. Many commercial vehicles have valuable cargo and need to be personally secured by the owner, not remotely stored at a rental storage facility.

Mathis said the commission was required to have the public hearing in regard to the recommendations of the Planning Commission.

“We have an obligation to hold a public hearing on their ordinance,” he said. “But I suspect the majority of this commission feels much the way that you do.”

A public hearing was also held related to the construction of a ground-mounted solar energy system totaling 3,017.44 acres. Luke Wilkinson, speaking on behalf of SR DeSoto, the company undertaking the project, said one thing that sets this project apart from others in the state is that the company will own the property for the duration of the system’s operational life, making it a corporate members of the community.

Appointments to authorities and boards were made, including the reappointment of Kerrie Davis to a five-year term on the Housing Authority and the reappointment of Gary Knight to a three-year term on the Library Board of Trustees. Each carried unanimously. However, the reappointment of Art Ford, Victor Stubbs and Wheaton passed on a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Muggridge and Singletary voting in opposition.

Following the regular meeting of the commission, the Road Committee held a called meeting. Ironically, after a week filled with comments by commissioners on the importance and efficacy of the Road Committee, the action of the board Tuesday night effectively disbanded the committee.

The meeting began with Commissioner Rick Muggridge asking about the cost efficiency of paving a number of small projects instead of continuing to maintain them as dirt roads. Road Committee Chairman George Walls recommended that the committee/board consider splitting future available funding evenly among the county’s five districts.

Mathis said that the idea had been discussed in the past.

“But we never did it,” he said. “Let’s talk about the money for a minute. First, I think we have $4 million in road projects we have started and are working on. If you’re inclined to do that, we will have about $4.5 million between five districts. We can split that, and everybody choose their roads.”

In further discussion, Muggridge wanted to know how the $4 million already committed would affect the decision. Mathis stated that this would involve the $4.5 million for the next fiscal year that was not yet committed to projects. Singletary asked if there would be any input from any other commissioners on how the money was spent. Mathis responded, “I don’t mind if you decide whatever roads you want to pave.”

During a subsequent discussion on the repairs needed to Bronwood Road due to damage by logging operations, Singletary expressed his concerns over the related safety issues associated with this damage. The committee asked Danny Keener, the county’s new Public Works director, for his opinion on this and several other issues. They also asked him to inspect and evaluate the necessary repairs on this section of road and asked County Attorney Jimmy Skipper if there were any options for litigation.

Albany Scout John Holton wins National Heroism Award
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ALBANY — The South Georgia Council and the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America recently presented the National Heroism Award to Scout John Burns Holton of Albany.

On June 14th, 2020, while canoeing on the Kinchafoonee Creek in Lee County, Holton and other Scouts were swimming and diving into the water. After one such dive, a fellow Scout surfaced in distress and quickly sank. Holton swam to the spot but could not locate the sunken Scout either above or below the water.

After resurfacing, Holton saw bubbles and dived on that spot, located the Scout who was having a seizure, and pulled him to the surface. By this time, other Scouts had arrived in canoes and kayaks, and the disabled Scout was stabilized and taken to shore to await help.

For his demonstration of heroism and skill in the saving of the life of another person, Holton received the National Heroism Award. He is a member of Troop 1 of Albany, which is sponsored by First Baptist Church of Albany. Holton is the son of Angie and Robert Holton of Albany.

The South Georgia Council serves thousands of girls and boys in Scouting in 28 south Georgia counties. For more information on scouting in south Georgia, go to https://www.sgcbsa.org/.Captions:

John Burns Holton

Photo labeled FAMILY (left to right): John’s brother, Robert Holton, Angie Holton, John Holton, and Mark Manchester, Scout Executive of South Georgia Council.

Photo labeled PINNING (left to right): Angie Holton pins the National Heroism medal on John Holton, her son.