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My challenge: Let’s get real

By   /   September 23, 2009  /   Comments

We can banter about our thoughts and suspicions until the cows come home, but at some point, everything in life, including what to do with this city of ours, boils down to what is real. That, if we are smart, is what we act on, and not what we wish were the case.

If you have been following my columns and my activities of late, then you know that I made a challenge on the qualifications of Arthur Williams to run for the Ward 3 Albany City Commission seat, being vacated by current Commissioner, Morris Gurr. Here are my opening remarks presented to the Dougherty County Elections Board, on Monday.

“Members of the Dougherty County Elections Board, I have challenged the qualification of Mr. Williams as a candidate for the Ward 3 post because of my own research into a matter that was first bought to light in the local media. Upon hearing the reports, that Mr. Williams “may” not be qualified to run for local office because of long-standing tax matters, I decided to see for myself.

As a concerned citizen of Albany and a resident in Ward 3, I felt that I had an obligation to myself as a voter, and to my hometown, to cut through all the rumors, and see what the public records showed.

In the Clerk of Courts public files, I discovered 26 separate filings on both federal and state back taxes owed, going back 13 years. Some of these were re-filings of previous liens, and some with the federal government, to my eye, had expired without resolution by Mr. Williams. But I felt there was still enough documentation on outstanding and active liens to certainly justify my challenge, in particular with the state. I submitted some of those documents with my official letter of challenge last week, to the Elections office.

I saw nothing in the public files that indicated Mr. Williams had addressed any of the liens with any sort of payment plan. I of course, do not have access to any of Mr. Williams’ private documents that may apply here. All I have to go on are the public files.

It is on this matter and this matter alone that I am here today as citizen of Albany, interested only in the fair and proper rules of governance, being properly administered by the Elections Board.

I do not know Mr. Williams personally, and I don’t believe we have ever met in any business or social setting, so this is certainly not a personal, or even a political action. If I were aware of a candidate that I supported, having these same issues on the public record that I have discovered regarding Mr. Williams, I would have advised them to not seek office. If they had regardless of that advice, I would be here challenging their qualifications, as well.

Albany is at a critical place in its development. In order to move forward as a community, in a positive direction for all of its citizens, the rule of law and its procedures currently on the books must be followed. Trust and ethics in local government must be maintained at every level, and at every opportunity.

I thank the board for it’s time today in addressing my challenge”

After further discussion on the matter from myself, Mr. Williams, members of the Elections Board, and their attorneys, it was decided that since none of the tax issues submitted had been adjudicated by the courts, Mr. Williams was a qualified candidate for the Ward 3 post. I will not challenge that decision in appeal. As far as I am concerned, the matter is decided and the campaign proceeds.

So why did I file my challenge? It was not an effort to keep Mr. Williams from returning to the local political arena, whatever it took. I did it because the local media had raised the question about his viability as a candidate, but had done nothing to answer the question they asked. I understand the philosophy that they “report the news, and do not make the news”. However, if you are going to pose the question on such a serious allegation, should you not, as journalists, take a little time to research the public records, and present to the citizens, the facts of the matter in response to the question you asked?

The people of Albany are overworked and underpaid. They do not have the time or energy to get into every issue that pops up. They rely on the news media to provide useful information that matters, and not rumors, and hearsay. When I heard the media reports on Mr. Williams’ questionable viability, and saw no real effort being made to discover the facts by the media, I simply took about a half hour out of my day, went down to the Clerk of Courts’ office, and pulled the tax records that everyone was all abuzz about.

The same thing could have been applied to Mr. Williams’ challenge that Chris Pike, his opponent in the Ward 3 race, had not filed on time. A phone call to the elections board by the media, asking when Pike qualified, would have shown Williams challenge to be groundless.

Albany needs everyone at the table, including the local media. Not to pick sides, but just the opposite; to research the facts, and present them as best as they can. It not only serves to aid the voters, it goes a long way toward keeping all politicians and public officials honest. We could certainly use more of that.

LonMcNeil 09Written by Lon McNeil. Mr. McNeil is an Albany independent marketing consultant. Find him online at AlbanyOnPoint.

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