Albany State of Community Luncheon Highlights Collaboration

David Shivers

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

From left Dr. David “Butch” Mosely speaks about progress in the Dougherty County Schools as Dougherty County Commission Chair Chris Cohilas and Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard listen.

Collaboration and education seemed to be the most highlighted themes at the “State of the Community” luncheon on August 12. The event was hosted by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by SB&T, the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission, Watson Spence, AlbanyCEO, Albany Technical College, EMG mortgage and Webb Properties. Set design by Ashley's Furniture Homestore. 

A question-and-answer session moderated by Matt Reed, Albany native and head of online Georgia CEO and its Albany outlet, posed inquiries to a panel of three local government leaders: City of Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, Dougherty County Commission Chair Chris Cohilas, and Dougherty County School Superintendent Dr. David “Butch” Mosely.

A highlight of the event was the announcement by Superintendent Mosely that a collaboration among the leaders of local educational institutions – in addition to Mosely, presidents Dr. Anthony Parker of Albany Technical Institute, Dr. Art Dunning of Albany State University, and Dr. Paul Jones of Darton State College - is solidifying after more than a year of discussions. The quartet is now working with a consultant from the University of Georgia on a formal organization that will have a board of directors and hire what Dr. Mosely called a “supercheerleader” to promote education in Dougherty County “eight hours a day, five days a week.”

Downtown redevelopment in Albany has been an ongoing and often controversial issue for many years. Mayor Hubbard revealed that earlier that same morning the city commission had given approval for new  city manager Sharon Subadan to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the existing Hilton Garden Inn to build a second hotel, Home2 Suites, on adjacent property, starting within the next three years. The new accommodation is expected to significantly boost downtown economic impact.

County Commission Chair Cohilas cited the $250 million biomass project by  Procter & Gamble, noting that “will ultimately benefit the citizens but also will benefit the  Marine Corps Logistics Base, which is our number one employer in Dougherty County…with respect to the biomass facility, which is a massive investment here in  our community, it is projected that it is actually going to take the Marine Corps Logistics Base to net zero production” in energy. That could be a factor in the base’s favor in future BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) decisions by the Pentagon, Cohilas indicated.

From left, Dr. David “Butch” Mosely and Dougherty County Commission Chair Chris Cohilas listen as Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard talks about Rails to Trails and moderator Matt Reed watches.

Although Superintendent Dr. Mosely acknowledged that six of the county’s 23 “traditional” schools are struggling, “Our dropout rates are down, our student grades are up, and our discipline rates are down.” Four of the six troubled schools have new leadership, and Dr. Mosely said with the help of the Board of Education, “We have managed to recruit and hopefully keep really high-quality people.”

“Every one of our principals is on a two-year improvement plan, and if they don’t improve (their school) they don’t have a job. That’s putting a lot of pressure on people to perform,” Dr. Mosely said. The school system has also developed a five-strategic plan that is posted on the district’s website.

Asked about the challenges on the horizon for education in Dougherty County, Dr. Mosely held up his cellphone.

“Our leadership team recently met with a consultant, and he  says that this device over the next 10 years will rule public education, and we need to get out in front. Technology in Dougherty County (schools) I know is the best in South Georgia and possibly in Georgia. We might be the only system that by December of this year every child, all 15,000, will have their own personal laptop.” Purchased by the school system, the project represents a $14 million investment. Dr. Mosely admitted, “We’ll lose a few, but we’ll replace them, and we’re not going to let 5 or 10 percent of negative things prevent the 90 percent of those who use them wisely.” He also foresees a residual effect of improved computer literacy in the students’ homes as parents or grandparents learn about the technology.

Another example of collaboration is the Rails to Trails project, a walking/biking trail  initiative of  Dougherty County and the city of Albany that is expected to eventually stretch from county-owned Radium Springs south of the city through downtown and to Sasser in Terrell County. Mayor Hubbard said she is excited about potential health benefits to local residents as well as the potential to attract cyclists and hikers from across the country.

Cohilas also referred to Rails to Trails in response to a question about agritourism, saying, “Albany and Dougherty County is a unique blend of the metropolitan community and the agricultural community. From Rails to Trails going through the city and  out into the country,  that’s something that we’re obviously very blessed to have,” as well  as “to have a river that runs right through the city.”

He continued, “A community such as Albany can leverage its current resources to increase its economic footprint but also decrease its carbon footprint. I think that’s the type of intended growth in progressive communities across the country. We’ve got to evaluate and see how we can best leverage our resources.”

Another example of the collective effect of collaboration, according to Cohilas, is that “the school system’s decision to go with the  career academy is going greatly impact our ability to attract to this community employers who are willing to invest in this community. That represents a substantive philosophical effort that is building on a strong foundation. It’s that type of collaboration in the joint establishment of certain goals that is  really important.”

Cohilas cautioned, “We have to be honest with ourselves about what our strengths and our weaknesses are, but we also have to be careful about how we look at ourselves and be careful about the speech we use, not  only our citizens but also leaders,  in that we take opportunities to actually brag about ourselves, brag about our resources, (and) not use speech that is  divisive” or negative. Speech through the media “can travel around the globe thousands and thousands of times, and those are the things businesses look at. They look to the stability of government, the stability of leadership, and I think that a strong measure of those is also being honest about our resources and our negatives.”