ALBANY — A lengthy, and at times heated, discussion broke out over the topic of economic development during a Monday-morning Dougherty County Commission meeting.
The flare-up came after Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas suggested that the body gather for a Saturday session in July or August dedicated to reviewing a number of issues, including job creation and addressing sections of the community lacking restaurants and stores such as supermarkets.
He also brought up a plethora of agencies and offices in Albany that have a role in some aspect of economic or business development and how it can be confusing to navigate that list and figure out who does what.
When Cohilas finished and initiated a turn around the table at the end of the meeting to allow others to bring up topics, District 2 Commissioner Victor Edwards accused Cohilas of covering up for the Albany-Dougherty County Economic Development Commission.
Edwards and District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines said that they have been unable to get any response to questions they asked that agency, which is funded by both the county and city of Albany.
At one point, when Cohilas rapped his gavel to restore order, Edwards banged his fist on the table. County Attorney Spencer Lee intervened to calm things down, and the meeting veered back to normalcy.
Gaines said that she was frustrated because the lack of information means she can’t do her job.
“Our big mission is to take care of this community, and we are not,” she said.
The county’s economy at one time consisted of light industry, agribusiness, farming and the government component, she said, but that is no longer the case and nothing new has been identified to replace that formula.
“That has broken down,” she said. “We have not re-created ourselves.”
District 4 Commissioner Russell Gray said there is a lack of vision in the community and commissioners bear the blame.
“It’s incumbent on us to set that vision,” he said. “This is where we want to be in 10 years; this is where we want to be in five years.”
Gray said there are steps the county can take to address problems such as the lack of supermarkets in some communities. As an example, he said a zoning density ordinance could prevent small chain retailers from surrounding and choking out a grocery store.
As the meeting was winding down, Cohilas said the discussion – and “passion” – were positive and showed everyone has the same goal of improving the community.