Dougherty Commission chair, chairman-elect outline plans for transition

May 25—ALBANY — Although he won't take office for seven months, the Dougherty County Commission Chairman-elect said Wednesday he is prepared to hit the ground running.

The Rev. Lorenzo Heard said he already has spoken with incumbent Chairman Chris Cohilas about the eventual transition.

On Wednesday Heard spoke with a group interested in improving recreation and after-school programs. And in coming weeks, he said he plans to launch efforts on improving blight and housing in the county.

Heard came out on top with 52.8 percent of the vote, sufficient to avoid a runoff in the three-way race. He finished with 5,449 votes, ahead of Cohilas, who had 3,667 votes (35.3 percent.) Former commission member Harry James received 1,205 votes (11.68 percent).

"I'm appreciative of the people and I'm thankful to God that it's over," Heard said during a telephone interview on Wednesday morning. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve. I had the privilege of speaking with Chairman Cohilas this morning and Mr. Harry James; both were very kind and appreciative. I think it was a hard-fought race, and we all gave it all we could to win."

The election winner, who made housing an issue in the campaign, said he hopes to build partnerships that include federal lending agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as local organizations. He also said he wants to address blighted properties.

"I want to meet with organizations that deal with affordable housing or would like to get into affordable housing," Heard said. "There are groups that are interested. Churches (and) nonprofits, they bring money to blighted areas that have been disinvested in for years.

"We will move aggressively to fulfill this campaign promise. It is our intention to fulfill it with people who have a heart for the community and are interested in making sure the properties are maintained."

During a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Cohilas said that he has offered to help make Heard's transition a smooth one, making sure the incoming chairman has an understanding of the responsibilities and power of the office.

"It is a tremendous, tremendous amount of hard work," Cohilas said. "It is a tremendous responsibility. I had a lot more hair when I took office.

"You are the face of this community in (Washington) D.C. and Atlanta. In times of natural disaster, it means making decisions that can literally save lives."

Asked the biggest lesson he learned since he took office, Cohilas said it is that winning arguments does not necessarily translate into effectively governing.

"Learning how to govern is different than being a persuasive public speaker," he said. "It's important to build partnerships and collaborations, and to do that across the entire board. I have been fortunate to have 85 percent to 90 percent of the votes I have taken to be unanimous.

"It looks easy on TV or for the people watching in the audience, but it takes hard work."

In his remaining seven months, Cohilas said he has an "aggressive" agenda to give raises to employees, continue work on the county's trail system and put millions in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to work on projects that will benefit residents.

For Heard, some of his other campaign promises centered around improving opportunities for young people. He said he would like to see Albany become an "Amateur Athletic Union City" with adequate facilities to support one or more sports from basketball to volleyball to swimming.

"(And) one even for those not interested in sports, maybe who are interested in the arts, whether it's dancing or ballet," Heard said. "I plan to start sitting down with youths. Adults often make decisions without listening to youths. I want to know what they want to see."