On Saturday, May 19 , Macon City Council member Elaine Lucas (Ward 1, Post 3) and local businessman Ed Grant, co-chair of the pro-consolidation group Macon-Bibb Wins Again, appeared on the weekly public affairs program ‘Close-Up’ on Central Georgia’s largest television station, WMAZ-TV.
The main topic was the issue of consolidation and whether Macon and Bibb County should merge.
Macon and Bibb County have considered the issue of consolidation four different times (1933, 1960, 1972 and 1976), but local voters had defeated the referendum each time it has appeared on the ballot.
Lucas, a consolidation opponent, countered Grant’s assertion that merging city and county government would spur economic development along with attracting new jobs and industry to Bibb County.
Lucas cited that consolidation would increase taxes and would ultimately produce numerous job cuts in an effort to ‘save money’ along with fewer services provided by local government.
Additionally, Lucas mentioned that government workers such as police officers and firefighters and current retirees would have to deal with possible changes to pension plans if the July 31 referendum is passed.
If HB-1171 is passed, it could be a Trojan Horse and provide exponentially more problems and unintended negative consequences for the citizens of Bibb County and its government workers.
There is a mandate of reducing combined government expenditrues of twenty percent by the year 2019, which is dictated in HB-1171 .
Consequently, the proposed new government would have the power to revise, significantly modify or even abolish pension plans along with targeting certain programs for potentially dramatic budget cuts.
The issue of consolidation has worried local police officers and firefighters.
Macon Police Chief, Mike Burns, has expressed reservations and said that he would “no” to HB-1171.
On March 2 , Bibb County Commissioner Elmo Richardson, a conservative Republican, had sent out an e-mail advocating changes to the local legislative delegation’s Macon-Bibb consolidation bill, HB-1171.
Richardson is the chairman of the Bibb County Commission’s Finance Committee and was critical of fellow Republican Allen Peake’s consolidation plan.
In the e-mail, Richardson had written that the Macon-Bibb consolidation bill which had recently passed the Georgia House on Tuesday, March 6, is “39 pages of good intentions, but presents more questions than answers. I have several very significant concerns.”
Grant is a former member of the Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority and also served on the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority and reiterated that the merger would be good for bringing business to the area.
Furthermore, Grant described himself as a ‘business-minded’ person who believes the structure of the government needs to be changed and Bibb County could put forth a more “united front” if there were fewer elected representatives.
What does Grant mean by ‘united front’? We live in democracy where we embrace debate and have open elections.
Rep. Nikki Randall of Macon had used the talking point “united front” in regard to consolidation and now Ed Grant has used the phrase and it is disingenuous.
The word ‘front’ doesn’t necessarily mean solidarity, but it can mean a cover-up, disguise, or deception.
Giving in to most Republican initiatives that reduces proportional representation is not fighting for your constituents and it undermines the progress which had been made since the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Lucas believes merging Macon and Bibb is in essence a ‘political power grab’ by local Republicans and the people who will be most affected would be senior citizens, women, children, minorities and the disenfranchised.
More Bibb citizens currently live within the Macon city limits (91,000) than in the county (65,000). African-Americans make up 52 percent of Bibb County and approximately 70 percent of Macon’s population.
In regard to the issue of proportional representation, consolidating would decrease progressive representation and provide more opportunities for Republicans to have more of an impact on Bibb County government.
Bibb County has been historically a progressive county that has mainly voted for Democratic incumbents and candidates, In 2008, President Barack Obama won 58 percent of the vote.
If HB-1171 passes on July 31, there are nine newly proposed city commission districts and at least four districts would lean heavily Republican.
The newly proposed District 2 and District 5 could be a toss-up which could lean Republican depending on turnout. If these two particular districts would be won by a conservative candidates, it is likely that Republicans could control Bibb County government.
Consolidation is more uncommon than common and Lucas asked the question why does Bibb really need to consolidate and cited Houston County as an example.
Houston County has grown in population over the years, but is still significantly smaller than Bibb County and consist of several communities such as Warner Robins, Perry, and Centerville along with the unincorporated areas of Kathleen and Bonaire.
Lucas said that Houston County has more elected officials than Bibb County, but there isn’t an orchestrated movement to merge the cities and communities in Houston County.
Under HB-1171, the Bibb County Sheriff would be considered the top law enforcement officer, but opponents to HB-1171 disagree with the sheriff assuming that role and believes the Chief of Police should be appointed by and be accountable to the elected mayor and elected officials.
Critics of consolidation also cite that the sheriff wouldn’t be susceptible to term limits–unlike the city commissioners and the mayor who would be restricted to two terms.
Lucas brought out the point that the use of term limits in regard to HB-1171 is ‘selective’. Why aren’t state representatives or the sheriff susceptible to term limits?
HB-1171 would make the Bibb Sheriff just as powerful or have more of a political impact than the Macon mayor and the elected city commission.
As Bibb County citizens, do we want to go down this road?