In the last year or so, Albany has seen an overt move by community-minded citizens to change things. New faces and new groups have come to the forefront, motivated by a desire to serve the city they call home, and to counter what they see as a lack of leadership and questionable ethics.
This year’s election of Chris Pike, who soundly defeated one of Albany’s long-time political icons, Arthur Williams in the Ward 3 race, was welcomed by voters across the spectrum as a sign of new blood stepping up to lead Albany to better days. Now, Albany businessman Sam Shugart makes no secret about his long-range plans to be a candidate and to do whatever he can to steer Albany in a new direction.
“I think I will be a good leader, not a politician, and do intend on running for office at some point,” Shugart said in an interview with The Albany Journal. “I would have a tell-it-like-it-is platform, certainly speak my mind, and push to do the right thing, no matter the consequences.”
Shugart says that it will be a matter of timing, both personally, and politically, adding that right now, “I don’t think we have the adequate political environment for me to be beneficial once elected”. It’s clear however, that he sees that day on the not too distant horizon.
Shugart was 2 years old when his parents moved to Albany from Pennsylvania. The 38-year-old partner in Reynolds, Shugart, and Associates, a local insurance firm, is a product of the Dougherty County School System and received a bachelor’s degree in risk management and insurance from the University of Georgia in 1994.
Upon returning to Albany after graduation, Shugart quickly found himself stepping up in a wide array of civic and social organizations, saying, “My nature and personality simply would not allow me to be an inactive or sideline member. When something needed to get done, I would raise my hand,” he said.
After almost 15 years, with businesses concerns and personal matters to attend to, Shugart pulled back.
“In 2008, I found myself with a daughter that needed more time with her daddy, a mother that I had to put into a nursing home, and five companies to run. Something in my world had to give,” he said.
Shugart resigned from the 11 organizations that he was involved in at that time. Today, Shugart looks for more manageable ways to stay connected to the community, taking on smaller projects like the Big Brother Big Sister fishing rodeos, fund-raisers for area nursing homes, and helping with various civic groups when he can.
Shugart sees Albany as a city with many things going for it, including a valuable supply of fresh water, its proximity to vacation destinations, beautiful woodlands, wildlife, clean air, nominal traffic, and a low cost of living. He even sees its size as a plus.
“One of Albany’s strong points that I often point out is that our size makes us a relatively small pond. The ‘sharks’ are weeded out very quickly,” he said. “If you are a good person and do good things the community will know quickly and associate themselves with you.
“The same applies adversely to the bad people. They are quickly labeled and pushed out via lack of association.”
A major hindrance for growth that he does see is an exponential encouragement for poverty.
“We give free food, free utilities, free housing, free welfare, free legal counsel, free school, free health care, free everything, all with little to no stipulations for the person receiving aid to better themselves,” he said.
Citing that other cities in our region do not offer the same level of support, or have a degree of accountability greater than ours, Shugart says this leads to a steady migration of those unwilling to work and be productive members of the community, and a way of life being passed on to their children that holds Albany back.
“I fully understand the need and reasoning for temporary governmental subsidies to help people get back on their feet, but they have to be just that; temporary,” he said.
The level of passion that Shugart has for Albany is obvious.
“I love Albany. I have made this my home and therefore I will constantly work to improve it for myself, those around me, and those that will follow,” he said.
People in the know say that Shugart will be a serious factor in Albany’s political future.
”I don’t see myself doing any more or less than others,” said Shugart, “but the reason I seem to stand out is due to the contrast of so many citizens doing nothing.”
To him it’s simply a continuation of his approach all along. He’s just raising his hand again.
Written by Lon McNeil. Mr. McNeil is an Albany independent marketing consultant. Find him online at AlbanyOnPoint.