So, two more Albany downtown businesses – Two Scoops Gelato and Al’s Super Subs – are packing up. Since City Manager Alfred Lott took control of downtown redevelopment at his insistence two years ago (so that someone could be accountable, he said), a virtual ghost town continues to emerge in Albany’s inner city. Meanwhile, four people have been indicted, and at least one more criminal charge is imminent if downtown trustee Lajuana Woods doesn’t resign first. And that doesn’t include cover-ups by Lott, himself.
But is Albany doomed?
We say, emphatically, that the answer is “no”, but that continuing to give the city manager our hard-earned money to spend on so-called downtown “redevelopment” certainly isn’t the answer to curing the community’s ills.
Consider this: Is there any single person or group in this community not associated with government who still thinks that taxpayers’ continuing to finance downtown revitalization efforts is a good idea? Even the people in charge were to be trusted, that’s certainly not how we want our money spent.
That’s the problem here: In Albany, public financing of downtown bureaucracy, “projects” and subsidies (legal and otherwise) is entirely government-driven, not people-driven. There’s no indication at all – from town hall meetings to, heaven forbid, a referendum of the citizens of Albany – that the public supports what city hall is doing as it continues to fund the downtown manager’s office and redevelopment agency while pursuing $6 million in additional indebtedness to pay for undisclosed, backroom schemes.
But they keep doing it, anyway – incompetently, often arrogantly (even though none of these folks have any experience in this line of work) and, in some cases, illegally.
We submit that the commercial success of downtown has little, if anything, to do with the community’s solvency. Rather, the challenges in this community are the directly correlated realities of poverty, lack of education, unskilled labor, scarcity of jobs, and government corruption and incompetency.
So, where does Albany’s recovery begin? With unfettered transparency in government – and nothing else. Indeed, if city government was open and honest, our money would be spent properly, our city officials wouldn’t consistently violate policies and laws, and we would have never heard of Don Buie, in whom Lott, Mayor Willie Adams and city commissioners unsuccessfully tried to entrust $6 million of our money.
With open and honest government in place, we might even still have Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Merck & Co. and Bobs Candies – all casualties Adams’ five-year tenure. At the least, we’d know how our money is being used – or not – to save and create jobs.
Albany needs elected officials who understand that inept and sleazy leadership is the primary cause of this community’s economic and moral decay. A holistic cleansing — not more taxpayer-funded brick and mortar downtown – is in order. And we think that one bold voice on the City Commission – a single whistleblower – could ultimately be the difference between good government and bad.