Give me a downtown director, Albany City Manager Alfred Lott insisted in 2007, and then you can hold me accountable for what happens downtown.
But until you do that, I’m not responsible, Lott said convincingly.
Assistant City Manager James Taylor passionately sang the same song to downtown stakeholders, who pleaded otherwise.
The stakeholders lost. Lott won. And the rest is history.
Heck, the City Commission even sided with Lott and Taylor and reconfigured the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority (ADICA), booting off two of its most respected members.
What did the taxpayers get in return: Victimized.
First, after bungling the hiring of a police chief and finance director, Lott hired a convicted felon, Don Buie, as downtown manager.
Then, operating in the city manager’s suite just 20 yards away from Lott’s office, Buie orchestrated the theft of nearly $100,000 from taxpayers in schemes ranging from a secret $50,000 gift to a public official to $500 payments to his wife and $350 payments to a mistress. One businessman even got free rent (and a grand-opening celebration attended by city officials) at taxpayers’ expense.
If it weren’t for reporters, state government sunshine laws, a brave volunteer city official (ADICA member Phil Cannon) and a caring citizen (Judith Brown, the grandmother of one of Buie’s girlfriends), local taxpayers would have been further victimized: Lott and Buie had their sights on a $6 million loan that they already had begun misspending.
Meanwhile, all of the city manager’s office corruption aside, downtown has lost nearly all the luster it had in 2005 when the City Commission curiously chose Lott – a small-town public works director – to lead a municipal corporation with a $100 budget and more than 850 employees.
On Tuesday, Buie admitted to nine of the 19 charges against him and agreed to serve a year in prison and to be banished from Dougherty County and from government work forever.
While Buie has been held accountable for his actions, Lott’s record remains remarkably unblemished.
No criminal charges. Nothing adverse in his personnel file. No apologies for the expense and division he just put the community through.
Indeed, there’s no reason to hope that more of the same isn’t on the horizon as, regrettably, the downtown chicanery isn’t an anomaly; rather, it’s well-documented that the downtown fiasco is representative of the state of our city leadership.
But with the ball is rolling, albeit ever-so-slowly, there’s a glimmer of hope that – with a determined citizenry, district attorney and Georgia Bureau of Investigation – good city government could be on the horizon in Albany.
So, we ask: Why stop with Buie? Why not work together, as a community, and banish all corruption?