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Albany Humane Society director defends shelter's policies

ALBANY – While Lulu Kaufman has faced a number of challenges over the past three years and the Albany Humane Society has made significant strides under her leadership, her success has not come without a layer of controversy.

Kaufman is currently wearing a number of hats. She joined the board of directors of the AHS in 2017 and currently serves as board president and shelter director.

“There were a lot of rumors that Albany was euthanizing too many animals to count; Albany needed somebody to help the shelter and save (animal) lives,” Kaufman said. “At that time, records indicated that AHS was euthanizing an average of 3,000 animals annually, one of the highest kill rates of any shelter in the state.

“I got on the board and said, ‘We are going to change this and you’re going to watch.’ I changed the direction of the shelter. Some people that had been on the board did not like the changes I was making. They felt we needed to keep our dogs here and let the community adopt them. Well, that’s not been working for 50 years.”

For Kaufman, the solution was finding an alternative to a system that was based solely on local adoption or euthanasia.

“I asked to be on the board because I am the Humane Society of the United States District 2 leader for the state of Georgia,” she said.

The HSUS is a nonprofit organization focused on animal welfare issues, including improving the life of farm animals, stopping puppy mills, ending cosmetic animal testing, and banning trophy hunting. It utilizes strategies that are generally beyond the scope of local organizations. The national organization consistently ranks in the top 200 largest charities in the United States.

HSUS does not operate, control or fund local humane societies. However, it does provide support to them through grants, staff training opportunities, standards of care, and evaluation services.

“We had to turn our shelter into a shelter that is forward-thinking, and I did that,” Kaufman said. “I taught the employees how to do it. I have my own transport coalition. I started it two years ago, working with eight shelters in our region. We work together to get animals out of our region up to other rescue (operations). I worked really hard and made changes that some people may not agree with. But our changes save lives, and our numbers speak for themselves.”

The numbers indicate that, in past years, AHS euthanized more than 3,000 animals annually, compared to the 43 animals euthanized to date this year. Kaufman explained that these animals were euthanized because of medical conditions or because they were considered vicious animals. AHS is no longer euthanizing animals because the shelter is full and there are no other options.

“The way that we see it in the shelter world, when you have to euthanize an animal because you need space, that’s killing an animal,” she said. “If you euthanize the animal because it is sick or vicious, that is humane.”

Currently, there is a three-day stray hold policy at the shelter. Meaning, the owner is given three days to find their animal and reclaim it. After that, it becomes the property of AHS, which then can, at operators’ discretion, decide what to do with the animal. Typically, AHS has three options, ranging from adoption to fostering or, ultimately, euthanasia.

According to Kaufman, fostering is the preferred option when an animal is frightened by the shelter environment. Pregnancy is another reason for fostering, as the shelter is not an ideal birthing setting in regard to exposure to disease and virus prior to age-appropriate vaccination schedules.

Currently, there are 123 animals housed in the AHS shelter with a monthly average generally running at about 220 animals. Kaufman credits the transport system she established as the reason for the lower numbers.

“I want to address the question about how quickly we transport out,” she said. “We have these wonderful rescue partners that are in Atlanta and farther north, in urban areas where they have higher numbers of adoptions. They send their trucks down. We get the animals vetted, give them health certificates, get them vaccinated and we get them on a transport to another rescue shelter.”

This success of AHS’s transfer program has raised some questions in the community, some of which relate to the shelter’s contractual responsibilities to the Animal Control Board. Others see the process leading to a shortage of adoptable dogs of preferred breeds at the local shelter.

“What we are doing at Albany Humane is life-changing for the animals,” Kaufman said. “We have done a remarkable job helping the animals in our community. I would love an opportunity to educate the people in the community as to what we are doing and how we are saving lives. I have had a lot of people in the community complain that these transports don’t leave any cute puppies in the shelter for us to adopt. So, I would love to address that.

“I feel like the problems at the shelter are not shelter problems, they are community problems. These animals are coming in from the community; we are just here to shelter them and do the best by them. We are proud of our numbers and the hard work we are doing in Albany’s name.”

Jon Ossoff: Georgians want leaders who will heal our country

ATLANTA — At 33, U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is young enough to wear the “maverick” brand that’s often placed on brash young politicians.

But Ossoff is no babe in the woods in the political arena, having narrowly lost a showdown with Karen Handel for her heavily Republican U.S. House District 6 seat in 2017, a race that was the most expensive such showdown in American history.

Undaunted by that tough loss, Ossoff, an investigative journalist who is CEO of Insight TWI, has set his sights on a higher prize: the U.S. Senate seat held for the past six years by Donald Trump acolyte David Perdue, a wealthy businessman who makes no bones that his allegiance is to the current resident of the White House.

“I can say up front, I am not running to be anyone’s partisan soldier,” Ossoff said in an interview with The Albany Herald, conducted via telephone from his Atlanta home, where he is self-quarantined with his wife, Dr. Alisha Kramer, an OB/GYN who tested positive for COVID-19 recently. “David Perdue is one of those politicians who puts his self-interest above those of the people he was chosen to represent. He’s proud; he brags about making his money by outsourcing American jobs to Asia.

“The company he ran was sued for pay discrimination against women. David Perdue only cares about David Perdue."

The Democratic challenger warms to the subject of his opponent.

 "He has had no objection whatsoever to the hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars that have gone to Wall Street investment banks and major corporations to keep them afloat during this crisis."  Ossoff said. "Yet he fights the stimulus checks of $1,200 to working people."

The young Democrat has made a campaign pledge not to accept donations from corporate political action committees. He contrasts that pledge with Perdue’s fundraising methods.

“He sells his meetings for corporate PAC checks, can you believe that?” Ossoff said of the Republican incumbent. “"He sends letters to lobbyists informing them that in exchange for a $7,500 corporate PAC check, they were entitled to four meetings per year. I run a business that exposes corruption and the abuse of power. And while Sen. Perdue takes cues from, for example, insurance companies, and then tries to end protections for pre-existing conditions. I'm refusing contributions from corporate PACs, and I'll fight to make health care affordable for every family in the state.”

Ossoff, whose latest campaign ad takes on the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has first-hand knowledge of the virus’ impact. Kramer tested positive for the virus, prompting Ossoff to get tested himself and to self-quarantine.

“I’m knocking on every piece of wood that’s within 5 feet of me, but right now (Kramer) is doing better,” the candidate said. “This is a strange sickness with a lot of ups and downs, but she’s on the upswing now. We’ve known since March that people like Alisha, people on the front lines, are at greater risk for the virus. We weren’t surprised when she got it. I had a negative test, but I’m remaining at home for a quarantine period before going back out into the public.

“It’s undeniable that the federal response to the pandemic has been catastrophic from the beginning. Our political leadership denied the reality of the pandemic, ignored the best advise of experts and then tried to spin their way out of the problem. You attack a robust problem like this by listening to the advice of the experts, the people who have experience dealing with these type issues. But for months now, all we’ve got is a president putting out spin, and people like David Perdue repeating that spin verbatim. This pandemic is not about politics.”

The latest polls conducted by various agencies show that Ossoff is either running neck-and-neck with Perdue, is ahead by a few points or is trailing by that same number of points, depending on which poll you believe.

"I don't pay much attention to the polls," Ossoff said. "But if you look at the tens of millions of dollars of out-of-state money and corporate money pouring in for Sen. Perdue, clearly, the race is extremely competitive. And what these special interest groups who support Sen. Perdue fear is that when the public finds out that not only was he not being honest, or taking the threat seriously when he downplayed and downplayed and downplayed, he was also busily trading medical and vaccine stocks and dumping his casino shares that he's in deep deep trouble with Georgia voters."

Ossoff said he became involved in investigative journalism as a career because of his interest in pursuing truth.

"So much of what we get in the media these days is garbage. ... I think that we face a crisis in American journalism and American media, the consolidation of mass media into the hands of a very small number of companies," he said. "And the hollowing out of local journalism, these great independent local papers that people have relied on literally for centuries, to understand what's happening in their community. And when reporting information is exclusively about maximizing profit, then the editorial incentives are distorted.

"I support measures that will help keep local newspapers open, that will increase funding for nonpartisan independent public interest journalism. ... I think that journalism can and should be a profitable enterprise but the ethical obligation of the journalist is to the truth. And there's too much partisan media in too much sensationalism in American journalism right now."

Asked about the partisan nature of state and national politics, Ossoff said the “D” or “R” on legislation is not what will get his attention if he wins the Senate seat.

“I couldn’t care less about political parties when it comes to serving the state I represent,” he said. “There are two very real truths about our government: Corruption in Washington is a bipartisan problem, and extremism in Washington is a bipartisan problem.

“I am building a growing coalition of voters in rural Georgia because my platform is simple: I believe everyone deserves to have affordable health care; I believe we need to work on improving our infrastructure and utilizing clean energy, and I think we have to get ‘dark money’ out of politics. I think the people of Georgia want real leaders who will work to heal our country. Leadership by people like Donald Trump and David Perdue is terribly divisive.”

Albany Commission gets involved in $1 million building renovation project

ALBANY — Facing criticism directed at a $1 million renovation and acquisition project for a health clinic building, the Albany City Commission has formed a committee to help guide the process.

The move comes after an Albany architect raised questions about potential safety code and Americans With Disabilities Act violations related to the renovation of the 211 N. Jefferson St. project, identified as the Pace Building.

Architect David Maschke also criticized the city’s hiring of non-local architects and contractors for the project.

The city purchased the building for $265,000 and budgeted the remaining portion of the $1 million for renovation costs. At the time, the commission agreed to have city staff perform the general contractor’s role for the renovation as a cost-cutting measure.

City staff reported to commissioners this week that the deficiencies identified have been addressed.

Commissioners B.J. Fletcher, Matt Fuller, Chad Warbington and Demetrius Young volunteered to serve on a committee that will review the renovation work and make further recommendations.

Part of the issue could be that several new commissioners who came on board this year would like to weigh in, said Warbington, who along with Young and Mayor Bo Dorough joined the commission in January.

“The project was approved right before we had several commissioners change,” he said. “I think the will of the commission is a little bit different than the will of the previous commission. You’ve got a little bit of that in the mix.”

Warbington had no specific complaints, but said that revisiting the project is a good idea.

“It’s easy to be (a) Monday-morning quarterback and say what could have/should have happened,” he said. “Let’s evaluate where we’re at and as a commission decide on a direction we need to go with it.”

The committee could meet as early as this week to begin its work. Because having four members participating would constitute a quorum of board members, the plan is to provide a live video stream of the proceedings.

One criticism of the building is that it lacks a sufficient number of windows, which could make for a dreary work environment that is not conducive to staff morale. In addition to the health clinic operations, some other city offices would be moved to the location under current plans.

Fletcher said she has enlisted an Albany contractor who has done previous work for the city who has agreed to install windows at cost. It is important to move the health operations to another building because the “temporary” site at which they were placed four years ago is inadequate, Fletcher said.

“If you go in to get blood work, you’re in front of everybody,” she said. “There’s no privacy. Our temporary clinic is just an embarrassment to the employees. (Moving the clinic to a more conducive location) is just the right thing to do.”

Dougherty County to hold public hearings on property taxes

ALBANY — Dougherty County commissioners are not raising the tax rate, but some county taxpayers could see an increase if the value of their property increased from the previous year.

The commission maintained the same property tax rate for the 2020-2021 budget year, but the increase in property values will bring in about .39 percent more to the county’s coffers.

The state considers an overall increase in taxes collected a tax increase, even though the tax rate itself was not increased, and requires a series of public hearings, Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy said.

Property owners who did not see an increase in property values will not pay more, while those whose property declined in value will pay less, all other things being equal.

Under state law, local governments are considered to have raised taxes when the amount of increase in the tag digest is reduced so that the amount of revenue remains the same as the previous year.

“When the total digest of taxable property is prepared, Georgia law requires that a rollback millage rate must be computed that will produce the same total revenue on the current year’s digest that last year’s millage rate would have produced had no reassessments occurred,” the county said in a news release. “The budget tentatively adopted by the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners requires a millage rate higher than the rollback millage rate, therefore, before the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners may finalize the tentative budget and set a final millage rate, Georgia law requires three public hearings to be held to allow the public an opportunity to express their opinions on the increase.”

Commissioners will hold the required public hearings on the proposed tax issue at 10 a.m. on Aug. 10, at 6 p.m. on Aug. 10 and at 10 a.m. on Aug. 17.

The hearings will be in-person meetings in Room 100 of the downtown Albany-Dougherty Government Center.