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Albany Police Department study will seek input from public

ALBANY — The Albany City Commission is set to approve a study of the Albany Police Department that will examine operations of the agency.

The assessment by accountant and consultant firm BerryDunn of Portland, Maine, would cost $68,000. City staff recommended approval of the assessment during a Tuesday commission work session conducted in a virtual format.

The assessment will examine police operations and gather data from the department. The company also will include community input in its work.

“As we look at the assessment and how we can improve, having the community involved is a critical point,” Police Chief Michael Persley told commissioners.

Community input is something that has not been included in previous studies of the department’s operations, he said.

“The intent is that we have a better connection with the community, Persley said.

The department expects that the study will provide a better understanding of its strengths, challenges and opportunities moving forward.

“The opportunity to have an assessment of how we are performing as a department is necessary for ensuring that we are meeting the needs of the community,” Persley said. “I strongly encourage community members to participate in the surveys and listening session that will be conducted during the assessment period.”

Commissioner Jon Howard asked whether the study will result in a better trained and engaged department and better results on the street.

“With the assessment, it may help focus on our efforts,” Persley said in response.

Howard also referenced comments made on Monday by Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas, who criticized the department’s staffing levels in the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit. Cohilas’ remarks were sparked by a Friday-night incident in which a bullet struck a car in which a family was riding on North Slappey Boulevard.

“I think we’ve got to sit down with the county and the (Dougherty County Police Department) and talk about these issues,” Howard said. “It does not sit well with the city and the county to be at odds about an issue that happened in the last three or four days.”

Howard also suggested that police consult with judges and district attorneys on strategies to combat violent crime.

There has been a rash of shootings in recent weeks, including three last week and one on Monday night.

“I am concerned about the high volume of crimes we are having in this city,” Howard said. “We need to talk about it and assure our citizens that our city is not alone in (dealing with) juvenile crime.”

Commissioner Chad Warbington asked Persley whether the study will look at the drug and gang units. The gang unit will be covered, as it is a part of the police department, the chief said. The drug unit is a combined effort of the city and county police departments and Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office.

“There may be some additional discussions that are found, and there may be some additional recommendations,” Persley said in reference to the drug unit.

The commission could vote to approve the contract on Sept. 22.

Renovation of Gordon Hotel set to open in downtown Albany in 2022

ALBANY — A downtown development project delayed in part due to the COID-19 pandemic is back on track with plans for a grand opening of the Gordon Hotel in about two years.

The $13 million to $14 million renovation of the historic building that at one time housed Albany Utilities offices will be an effort to preserve some of the old and bring something new, developers said.

Owner and developer Jason Benedict and chief designer Nina Grondin gave the update on Tuesday during an Albany City Commission work session. One thing that will be new is the minimum 43 jobs that will be created, some of which will be “high-paying” positions, Benedict said. It also will bring in additional tax revenue to the city and county. And the development also will create a buzz when cranes go up and work begins, he said. The company plans to request building permits in the next few months.

“The value of the development when it is completed will be significantly greater than it is today,” Benedict said. “We think it will provide a rising tide of property values (downtown).

“The concept is to bring back the Hotel Gordon in a modern format (and) bring a 3 1/2-star bedding and dining concept to downtown Albany. The results of this project is it is going to create jobs and provide a large economic impact to this community.”

The work will preserve much of the historical exterior appearance of the six-story building, Grondin told commissioners.

It will include pocket parks to provide an “urban oasis.” The hotel will have a second-floor ballroom and “rooftop element” as well.

“What we’re really looking to do is bring back the beauty and history of this building,” she said.

In other business Tuesday, the commission:

♦ Delayed discussion of proposed changes of the city’s dangerous dog ordinance until October;

♦ Heard an update on the 211 N. Jefferson St. Pace Building. Commissioners previously agreed to limit the scope of the renovations to providing space for an employee health clinic and look at locating other city operations in excess space at a later time. The property acquisition and renovation project is expected to cost about $1 million;

♦ Discussed a proposed $561,000 sidewalk project. The project would provide a total of 2.4 miles of sidewalks on Magnolia Street, East Broad Avenue and Old Dawson Road.

Albany teenager critically wounded in Monday shooting

ALBANY — An Albany teenager shot on Monday night was in critical condition on Tuesday as night-time street violence continued in the city.

Officers dispatched at about 10 p.m. to an apartment complex at 333 S. Mock Road found 18-year-old Davyon Hall on the ground with a bullet wound to the upper body.

Hall told police that prior to being shot he saw a black Audi with about five black males pull into the complex behind a blue Lincoln Town Car. He heard some conversation among the group in the car and when he turned to run realized he had been shot.

Hall received a wound to the upper left shoulder that traveled through to the right side of his neck, police said.

He told police that the group of males hang out at the apartment complex.

The shooting was the fourth in the city in a week. None of the shootings were fatal.

University System chancellor defends re-opening campuses

ATLANTA — University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley on Tuesday defended his decision to bring students back to the system’s 26 campuses this semester for in-person classes.

While some campuses – notably the University of Georgia — have reported large numbers of new coronavirus cases, most were mild or without symptoms, Wrigley told members of the system’s Board of Regents. Those new cases have started to come down in recent days, he said.

“We said all summer this would be different,” Wrigley said of re-opening public university campuses across Georgia. “It is challenging … [but] we have become fluent in the language of the pandemic.”

Wrigley blamed the increase in new COVID-19 cases on large off-campus gatherings of students. A video of a packed gathering of University of North Georgia students in Dahlonega last month at a party the day before school started went viral.

Since the early days of the semester, students have shown great leadership tamping down those kinds of gatherings and following other safety guidelines including wearing masks, the chancellor said.

“We need to remain vigilant,” he said. “It’s a long semester. COVID-19 thrives on concentration and carelessness.”

Like the state’s K-12 school system, the university system shut down classrooms last March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Georgia. The schools completed the spring semester online.

The decision over the summer to resume in-person instruction drew widespread criticism from students and teachers worried about spreading COVID-19.

Wrigley reiterated Tuesday that the decision was based on the inherent advantages of the on-campus experience compared to virtual learning.

“We believe strongly in the richness it adds to education and overall student enrichment,” Wrigley said. “We will stay the course.”

In other business Tuesday, the regents adopted a request for $2.4 billion in state funding for the next fiscal year, which starts next July.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget told state agencies not to ask for more money next year, citing the pandemic’s impact on the state’s economy, Tracey Cook, the system’s executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs, said.

However, the university system was permitted to seek a net increase of $61.5 million, primarily to cover projected student enrollment growth, Cook said.