Albany City Manager Alfred Lott angrily interrupted a citizens meeting last week and ordered his key transportation staffer to quit answering questions about the scandal-ridden downtown bus station project.
Transportation planner David Hamilton was meeting with the local Citizens Transportation Committee on Thursday when Lott walked in and issued a gag order to his employee. Committee members were trying to find out why city and state transportation officials provided false information to the federal government as they secretly sought substantially enhanced funding for the project, which recently, suddenly and without explanation grew in scope from $2.3 million to $9 million.
At the public meeting Thursday at the Lee County Courthouse, Lott ordered Hamilton to quit talking and questioned why the bus station project, which recently lost its federal funding because of irregularities on the part of local and state transportation officials, was on the citizens committee’s agenda. After Hamilton complied with Lott’s demand, Chairman Charles Gillespie then continued the meeting. The committee is appointed by local elected officials and, unlike Hamilton, does not report to Lott. Hamilton reports directly to Planning Director Howard Brown, who reports to Lott.
Buoyed by the prospect of federal aid, Albany officials have planned a new bus transfer station or the renovation of the existing West Oglethorpe Boulevard transfer facility for nearly a decade. The city’s motive for a “multimodal” project accommodating high-speed rail transportation is mysterious; the project is not cited in an extensively prepared regional transportation strategy and high-speed rail transportation in south Georgia is not contemplated by state planning officials. Yet, in July, the project got a surprising and massive shot in the arm when the Georgia Department of Transportation announced it had secured $9 million in federal stimulus funding for what would be the largest multimodal transportation center in the state.
Public records show that city and state officials conspired this year to inaccurately present a flawed environmental assessment, incomplete historical-preservation data, and false public-participation information to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. It is unclear whether the scheme was due to government officials’ ineptness or due to additional corrupt activity at city hall; indeed, that’s what the committee was seeking Thursday – answers – before Lott interrupted the meeting.
The Albany Journal asked Lott the following questions verbatim in an e-mail following the meeting, during which Lott received a traffic citation warning for illegally parking in a handicapped space.
- Please explain in detail the erroneous information and false statements that are in the environmental assessment for the “multimodal” project.
- Please provide details regarding the parking plans for the “multimodal” project.
- Why do you refuse to allow your staffer to address these issues or address them yourself?
- Don’t you think the Citizens Transportation Committee and the rest of the public deserve full transparency regarding the proposed expenditure of transportation funds?
- Please explain how the “multimodal project” is getting a higher funding priority than other transportation projects despite not being on the city’s transportation priority list.
- How did the “multimodal” project price jump from $2 million-plus to about $9 million without public input or consideration by the City Commission.
- Why did you park in a handicapped parking space?
- The decision to park a city car in a handicap parking space is an employment policy violation; will you self-report yourself?
Lott has not responded to the inquiries.