MAYORAL CANDIDATE FIELDS PUBLIC’S QUESTIONS
Editor’s note: On Tuesday night, Albany mayoral candidate B.J. Fletcher held an online chat accessible through her Website, BJFletcher4Mayor.com. Following is a text of the session; the content has been slightly edited for brevity and relevance. The chat sessions will be held for five consecutive Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. All local candidates’ chat sessions will be posted in The Albany Journal upon request.
BJ4MAYOR: Hello everybody, welcome to my live chat. I want to know what your needs and concerns are for our city. I’ll be typing as fast as I can, so stay with me.
DowntownT: What made you want to do a live chat?
BJ4MAYOR: I realize that I’m tapping into this new community online, and want to be able to reach everyone, young and old.
Carol: Hello BJ. I see the police chief added more officers on the street and downsized some of the supervisory positions. I think this is a good idea. What other ideas do you have to help with the crime in Albany?
BJ4MAYOR: First of all, I agree that was a good move on his part. We need to support our task forces that focus on gang activities and illegal drugs. Also, officers need to be out among the community and more accessible and people-friendly. I’d also like to deal with the issues with our under-paid police officers, looking at their compensation according to their experience. Lastly, I’d like to see officers that are bilingual and able to reach more parts of the community.
BJ4MAYOR: Did that answer your question?
Carol: Yes. Thank you. I’ve not done this before and am not quite sure how it works.
Mike Sabot: BJ are going to join Gov Deal Thursday, on his jump start competitiveness program
BJ4MAYOR: I’m right with you. We can all learn together!
BJ4MAYOR: Yes, Mike, I’ll be there from 9:30 – 4:00. I was asked to attend by the EDC.
Carol: What is this program?
BJ4MAYOR: I want to be as well-rounded and educated as possible.
BJ4MAYOR: It will be held at Albany Tech, with some state officials including Gov. Deal in attendance. It’s about competitiveness in business.
Mike Sabot: Public is invited
BJ4MAYOR: Additionally, it is to help shape our state in the future; I’ll be there to represent south georgia and get our needs across the state govt.
Carol: Good. It seems we are forgotten many times.
BJ4MAYOR: That’s why it’s so important to keep on top of our representatives; we are on our own out there.
DowntownT: Is your interest only with Downtown Albany
BJ4MAYOR: My interest is all of Albany, but I believe the heartbeat of any community starts with the downtown areas. People of the community is the key to our success, and that covers North, South, East and West!
Mike Sabot: Would you support a salary study for Albany employees to see how competitive wages are and what would you recommend if salaries are to low or high?
BJ4MAYOR: Absolutely, to retain our people, we need to be competitive with salaries. As far as supporting a study, I feel like if it’s done locally, I would support it. We have enough talent locally to tell us what our needs are for our people.
Carol: How do you plan to work with commissioners with respect to keeping personal ideologies out of the room and sticking to the business at hand?
BJ4MAYOR: I plan on sticking to the business at hand, plain and simple!!
BJ4MAYOR: I see some of you out there, but you’re not asking questions. What would you like to see happen with Albany’s future? Let’s all get out of our comfort zone, so we can get into a bright future.
Carol: What will you do to bring more businesses to locate anywhere in Albany?
BJ4MAYOR: I need to find out first what we are doing right to keep the businesses we still have such as P&G, Miller, Coats and Clark, etc.
BJ4MAYOR: We need to partner up with those businesses to attract new ones. We also need to get with our small businesses to find our what would help them expand. I’m always an advocate for small businesses…
Mike Sabot: What about the Chamber of Commerce?
BJ4MAYOR: We need to help them grow because they are the backbone of every community.
collier pat: bj have you been able to turn up any answers about money owed to the city and county by Mediacom and the church that did not honor there contract with the Federal Govt. that taxpayers had to pay to Feds.
BJ4MAYOR: A Chamber of Commerce is supposed to represent the small businesses, so we need to make sure that’s happening!
BJ4MAYOR: I’m studying all these issues, and met with some commissioners regarding these very questions. I’m not at liberty to discuss just yet, but will with every bit of information the public needs to know, I will take it to the people and make it publicly known. We’ve been left in the dark too long!
DowntownT: I ate with you today, love them plaid shorts will you keep them!!!
DH: As Mayor, how would you propose reversing the prevalent apathetic mood in private and public sector?
BJ4MAYOR: Not only will I keep my plaid shorts, but I need on pumps to accentuate my legs! Hmmm.
Tripp: Dang! srry i’m gettinghear late
BJ4MAYOR: Listen, guys, they have that apathetic mood and attitude because of the leaders we’ve had in place. With jobs, we give them a reason to be involved in this community. They feel like they are not a part of our community, and we have to address that issue. A job will do wonders to change people’s attitudes and outlook!
linda: I dont really know what to ask. Albany used to be such a nice town. Now it is full of broken down, ugly eyesores. I would like to see an Albany that you dont want to leave as soon as you get here. when my kids and grands come to visit there really is nowhere to take them. The zoo is ok and we have seen the riverquarium. Radium is no longer an option for a nice day. Albany seems like a town on its way out. what could we do to make it seem more like a town on its way up?
collier pat: what answers have you turned up about money owed to the city and county? money owed by mediacom and the church that did not fulfill their govt. contract
collier pat: what answers have you turned up about money owed to the city and county? money owed by mediacom and the church that did not fulfill their govt. contract
BJ4MAYOR: Linda, try looking at what we do have. We have Chehaw, Movies in the Park, occasionally things at the Civic Center including the Panthers, who are now in the playoffs. We must keep supporting our town in order to keep improving it. Darton and ASU are expanding constantly. Let’s look at it as glass half-full instead of half-empty.
linda: jobs are a great help. people do feel like they have more to give to their community if they are employed.
BJ4MAYOR: Pat, none that are satisfying to me, but I will keep at it until I get real answers.
BJ4MAYOR: Thank you, Linda, you are exactly right!
linda: i think the civic center could be used for more events. why is it not used much?
Mike Sabot was timed out
linda: or if it is maybe i am just not hearing about it.
linda: BJ i think you have the attitude and business sense that Albany really needs.
BJ4MAYOR: I think the answer to that is to improve management. The mayor needs the power of appointment to be able to address that issue directly, and be able to be more involved with who’s in charge of what under the mayor’s administration. Albany’s mayor is basically a cermonial mayor with only the power to do what 3 other commissioners are willing to do also.
linda: how can that be changed
Tripp: When I was a small boy, we used to shop down town. For a long time the down town area was a place you went to if you wanted to get robed or shot. In recent years it seems to be making the turn back to a place that a person would like to go have lunch or meet friends. We need to keep the positive, friendly businesses moving in down town. For a while business was all moving to Lee co. or moving out toward Sasser. Now the houses are popping up out there. We need to take advantage of the fact that neighborhoods are popping up where business was heading and draw those businesses to down town.
linda: since it obviously does not work well
BJ4MAYOR: Linda, first let me address your question. You’re right, it does not work very well. The city commission has to vote on a charter change under special legislation with the Georgia General Assembly and after public hearings.
linda: well that would not be easy
BJ4MAYOR: Good things are never easy, but are worthwhile. And Albany’s worth it! By the way, Macon has that form of government, and Atlanta, and other major cities within the State of Georgia already. We will consult and follow the best of their models.
Carol: So a commisioner has to propose it?
linda: or get some good comissioners in there
BJ4MAYOR: Tripp, you are right! We need to keep focused on the positive and keep improving the downtown atmostphere. All cities go through this cycle of deterioration in their downtown areas. We are trying to shift that focus against all odds!19:52
Carol: I have to leave now. Is there a way to pull up the log of questions and answers so I can look at later?
BJ4MAYOR: The mayor or a commissioner can make a proposal like that, but it would currently take 4 votes and public hearings to present the proposal to the local legislative delegation to introduce it in the House and Senate under special local legislation.19:53
BJ4MAYOR: Carol, we’ll be posting the entire chat at BJ4Mayor.com later. Thanks for coming and your participation!
Carol: Thank you for running!
BJ4MAYOR: You’re welcome, I’m thrilled to be here!
linda: you have given us some things to think about for sure.
BJ4MAYOR: Thank you for your interest, this is what Albany’s all about – people who care.
DowntownT: Lets talk about this change of government, what else would be involved with that?
Tripp: one thing that sticks out in my mind about Albany’s city leaders, is that they seem to be very good at funneling funds, business, and resources to friends, brothers & sisters. What can the mayor do to put a stop to this under the table practice?
BJ4MAYOR: The form of government would be that the mayor would be the CEO of the city, and would appoint all of the directors, dept heads, city attorney, etc, subject to the vote of the city commission. In that process, the mayor is the only person to make the nomination, the commission will vote that nominee up or down. It is a similar model to the federal govt, and nominees from the President. Instead of the Mayor presiding at the city commission meetings, the commission would have a President that presides, voted from among its members.
BJ4MAYOR: At this point, not much can be done about that, Tripp. However, with this new form of govt we’re proposing, the Mayor would have Line Veto Power.
Susan: What would you do as mayor to bring our civic center back to life as southwest Georgia’s premiere entertainment facility.
BJ4MAYOR: Presently, Susan, the director of the civic center serves at the pleasure of the city commission. If elected, I would propose a change to the form of govt we have, so the mayor would have the power to appoint the civic center director with direct accountability to the mayor.
BJ4MAYOR: What do all of you think about this live chat, and how it’s going?20:09
Susan: I think it’s great.
Tripp: i like being able to ask questions directly to the canidates. thx so much for giving us the opportunity
BJ4MAYOR: Thanks for being here with us, guys; we appreciate your time. This shows how open everyone is to improvement.
mary: bj~do you have any ideas for creating programs that will help kids busy and out of trouble?
Susan: BJ – how would you propse to address the racial tensions in Albany and how can we get us all working together for Albany as one people regardles of race, religion, creed or sex.
Tripp: BJ, right now in some of the neighborhood watch grps, some of the police officers and commissioners are connected and involved, would you be willing to get involved with the neighborhood watch grps?
mary: great point susan
linda joined the chat
BJ4MAYOR: I’ve been following programs to address that very issue. I worked with Healthy Kidz, which included natural approaches to academics and excercise/physical activity, overall eating healthy, along with positive reinforcement to self image.
mary: what are the biggest challenges you see facing Albany?
BJ4MAYOR: Yes, Susan. We can fix this by first agreeing that the tensions do exist, but if we can provide better jobs, housing, economy, it will in and of itself create a vested interest in a better community for all: black, white, latino, everyone!
BJ4MAYOR: Tripp, I would jump right in the middle of it. I would not only be involved, I’d lead the effort!
BJ4MAYOR: Mary: Jobs, safety and the retention of our young people in Albany. It all goes hand-in-hand.
mary: how do you propose to bring new businesses to Albany?
BJ4MAYOR: As I said earlier, I’d like to capitalize on the businesses that have stayed, then build an impressive resume for other companies to see. The heart of our community is the small businesses. Beyond that, we will explore tax incentives for those small businesses.
mary: are you planning a meet and greet anytime soon?
BJ4MAYOR: We’ll be doing 4 weeks of this type of live chat, then week 5, we’d like to meet all of you in a meet-and-greet! Check out bj4mayor.com for more details, and we invite all your questions and ideas!
Concerned for Albany joined the chat
DowntownT: BJ, with as many hats as you wear how can you focus on what you say you are going to do…everytime I turn around I hear you are opening an new business
Concerned for Albany: How do you plan on reaching out to everyone? This is Albany and the tension between the races is in a bad spot right now!!!
Susan: I know you addressed the issues for keeping and building small businesses, but as you know we have many facilities that once housed large companies that are sitting empty. Cooper Tire and Merck Chemical are just a couple of examples.What ideas do you have to entice some of the larger employers back into our area.
BJ4MAYOR: First of all, I am co-owner Cafe 230 and the Fresh Farm Market, both young businesses that struggle to stay open. I am also GM of Ole Times, but I’m responsible for 45 families, and as long as they want me to, I’ll be there for them! Unlike others, who have professions that involve them directly, I have a great management team that helps me keep everything going. I’m more like a CEO.
BJ4MAYOR: Our needs at the same, Concerned. No matter your race, we all need jobs, we all need/want to be safe, and we want to keep our families here with opporunities to watch them grow. Most of all, I don’t want this election to hinge on race or gender, but only on the issues affecting our present and future!
BJ4MAYOR: Susan, we have to make Albany more attractive. I don’t like to second-guess what has already happened. My platform is about building a future that benefits us all, small and large industries.
Betty: Do you have any ideas on how we can preserve the little we have left here in Albany of historic value? So much of our history is gone or going.20:37
linda: it is so depressing to see beautiful old buildings just falling apart
BJ4MAYOR: Great question, Betty.
melody: Thank you for bring up downtown the way you have, I love cafe
BJ4MAYOR: We were discussing this today with downtown leaders, how important it is to preserve the historic properties that are an important part of Albany, We need to capitalize on saving these structures instead of tearing them down. We have been considerate to the architectural integrity of the current buidlings downtown but still modernizing the inside for greater functionality. Code enforcement will be a great partner in this endeavor.
Betty: I agree, the inside can be updated and keep the outside as close to the original as possible. I am concerned about the old bridge and the Albany Theater.
Tripp: BJ, if you re elected, please don’t buy anymore expensive blue pipe to stretch over the roads like oglethorpe
melody: love it
BJ4MAYOR: ADICA just bought the Albany Theater, Betty. I’ve been told the old bridge will be under construction by November.
linda: the albany theater was really a beautiful place
Betty: The old bridge, will it be restored or torn down?
linda: what do they plan to do with it?
melody: I enjoyed that place
BJ4MAYOR: Right now, the proposal for the bridge is new construction. Structurally, it is not sound enough to be repaired according the State DOT.
mary: that’s too bad
linda: sorry betty
Betty: it would be one thing if they would build a new bridge exactly like the old
Tripp: is Cafe 230 where Friedman’s used to be?
Betty: but it will be ugly
BJ4MAYOR: It’s a DOT project, a state issue, not local unfortunately
Betty: we have no input?
Albanian-ish: Not with the DOT. Unless you are a lobbyist
BJ4MAYOR: I guess she’s wondering about the bridge really be structurally unsound. Not defending DOT, but there were public hearings advertised and held on this issue.
Tripp: gerst used to have a store there years & years ago
Albanian-ish: Bridge is truely lost. But in the flood of 94 that bridge was said to be more sound than the other.
Betty: it would be a great pedestrian bridge and an asset to the riverfront like the one in Savannah, and San Antonio, they know how to make the river attarctive and a draw
Betty: yes it was the only usable bridge, arches are stonger
linda: i missed that. when were they held
Albanian-ish: BJ-What can be done to bring more law enforcement professionals on board?
melody: Well I won’t walk on it
BJ4MAYOR: I agree about the pedestrian bridge, but the city has no jurisdiction
Betty: me too
Tripp: << Albanian-ish: Seems the local police dept is struggling to keep their numbers up
linda: people walk on it every day. i watch them.
linda: the police here in albany are not paid very well
Betty: that bridge could outlive me easy
BJ4MAYOR: I believe it is a problem with law enforcement retention because we pay for training, but don’t offer the best incentives for retention. After all, we have the best training facility around; after training, we’re losing them to other locations.
linda: i have no fear of the bridge
melody: no they are not
linda: and they are doing really well downtown20:54
linda: when we close at night on the weekends they are right there watching over us
Betty: no our firemen and police deserve better pay
linda: during mardi gras they kept all the kids under control
Betty: well not year before last
Betty: i know of fights that went unchecked
linda: no but this year they did
linda: i have seen kids set fires in turtle park
linda: they come in and steal from us
linda: but the police are on it now
Betty: gangs hang out in Turtle park at night been doing it for years
BJ4MAYOR: I agree on the pay issue. We have to be competitive with our pay for officers and fireman. In order to do that, we have to have the money to pay them. In order to do that, we must increase our tax digest by bringing in industry that pay taxes on their properties, and pay for the services that they take advantage of
Betty: mostly 12-15 year olds
Betty: out all night
Albanian-ish: I agree that for the numers we have, they are presenting a good force so to speak. But we have had more on board who stayed. So the incentives to stay are being usurped by other localities that draw them over. What is attractive in the other cities/towns that we might borrow
Betty: and reduce waste
Betty: like the Cutliff Grove buyout and others
mary: too bad Phoebe doesnt have to pay property tax
BJ4MAYOR: Right now, the police chief is subject to the City Manager, not the mayor. If elected, and the commission adopts the form of govt discussed earlier, that would make the police chief directly accountable to the mayor.
melody: I would be glad to see a woman mayor for Albany, it is time. That is what wrong with the picture.
BJ4MAYOR: We have time for 1 more question.
linda: so it all comes back to bringing in more industry
BJ4MAYOR: Thank you Melody, but I don’t want you to vote for me based on my gender, only on the issues I stand for.
Betty: If Phoebe buys all Palmyras properties we lose even more funds
Albanian-ish: How healthy is our relationship with P and G?
BJ4MAYOR: …but it does take a woman to sweep the kitchen clean…lol!