Candidates announce for Dougherty County races during first day of qualifying

Mar. 7—ALBANY — Two candidates for the Dougherty County Commission chairmanship qualified on Monday, the first day political parties were allowed to qualify candidates for local and state primary elections.

Incumbent Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas drew a challenge for the May 24 primary race from former county commissioner Harry James. In addition, several other candidates for commission and Dougherty County School Board were scheduled to complete their paperwork later in the afternoon.

James, who served two years on the board as the representative of District 5, said it's his concern for the community that has kept him involved in the county government even after he was voted out of office.

"Any time is a good time to challenge the current administration if you don't feel enough is being done," James said Nonday morning after completing qualifying. "My interest in participating in this process is to make this a better community for my fellow citizens. (Serving on the commission) is service, and service is what this process is all about."

James said the issues that make up his platform include working to improve the quality of life for all Albany/Dougherty County citizens; advocating to improve crime and public safety; transparency in county government and fiscal responsibility; working to build better county/city relationships; working to improve employee morale and advocating to improve conditions to attract industry to create better-paying jobs.

During a campaign kickoff event last week, Cohilas said he is looking forward to continuing some of the progress made during his first two four-year terms. Unfortunately, those terms included a series of natural disasters and COVID-19, but funds that came to the county to address recovery present an opportunity to invest in the community.

"Now we're at a place where we can invest dollars — invest in infrastructure, invest in building back and invest in building back stronger," he said during an interview at the campaign kickoff event.

The chairman, an Albany attorney and former assistant district attorney, said he also would like to continue to build a "connected community" through a trail system centered at Radium Springs, through improving roads and infrastructure and by improving access to the internet for residents.

Several other Democratic candidates were scheduled to turn in their paperwork later in the day, Benny Hand, the vice chairman of the Dougherty County Democratic Party, said.

Qualifying is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. through Thursday, and from 9 a.m.-noon on Friday.

On the Democratic side, qualifying is being held at Woodland Heights apartments, 1537 Silas Lane.

District 4 County Commissioner Russell Gray said he intended to qualify for re-election at about 4:30 p.m. on Monday. Gray, who will complete his first full term at the end of the year, said he wants to build on the trajectory of successes the county has realized in recent years.

"There's a lot of responsibility and a lot of learning that goes into your first year or two or three that makes you more efficient in the things you do," he said. "We've got a lot of things going on now. I want to see those things continue."

Among those, Gray said, are Radium Springs and a study of employee pay geared toward establishing a system to reward good workers.

"I'd like the county to be a career destination, rather than just a place to go to work," he said.

The commissioner, noting a collaboration of the Albany Police Department with clinicians to address mental health issues, said he also wants to establish a mental health program to help steer individuals with behavioral health and substance issues away from the law enforcement and judicial systems when possible.

Identifying and offering a route to treatment would help prevent unnecessary housing of those who need help in the county jail and tying up police resources, he said.

District 2 County Commissioner Victor Edwards, who was planning to qualify at about 3 p.m. on Monday, said accomplishments over the past four years include a paving project to address 22 alleys.

"I was able to introduce Juneteenth as being one of the holidays for the county," he said.

Some projects he said he would like additional time to address include completion of Radium Springs projects and providing work opportunities for young people.

"I want us to be more involved in helping local programs that provide services to the community, like the Albany Rescue Mission," he said. "I want to clean up (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) from Robert Cross Park all the way to Oglethorpe Boulevard, clean up all those dilapidated structures and replace them with some new economic development of small businesses."