Macon-Bibb consolidation measure gets ‘historic’ legislative approval

mlee@macon.comMarch 22, 2012 

ATLANTA -- The state House of Representatives gave final legislative approval to its Macon-Bibb government consolidation proposal Thursday morning, which now puts the question in front of voters countywide in July.

“This is a historic day,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. “This is the first referendum on consolidation in nearly 40 years.”

The new charter proposes merging Macon’s and Bibb’s governments in 2014 under a nine-member county commission and a mayor elected at large. The merged government is also directed to cut spending, an attempt to guarantee that the new system would be smaller and less expensive.

The final House blessing came without Bibb dissent, as the bill is only a slightly edited Senate version of what the House already approved.

All eight of Bibb County’s legislators signed House Bill 1171. It passed the House by 150-5 as part of a package of several unrelated local bills.

The new cooperation among the eight legislators on consolidation replaces wrangling last year, which split the political parties and the two chambers.

“I think we are committed to functioning at an optimum level,” said state Sen. Miriam Paris, a freshman Macon Democrat.

That could help Macon-Bibb on many issues. Paris said there is no reason Bibb shouldn’t prosper as much as any other county, adding “it’s time for us to stop talking about it and start being about it.”

Chris Floore, a spokesman for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s office, said it’s “exciting to come to a point where people can decide” and praised the months of work legislators spent on getting the measure approved in the General Assembly.

“People still have questions,” said Floore, who predicted proponents will spend the next few months in an educational campaign.

The new governmental body -- the Macon-Bibb County Commission -- likely would be Democrat-run by a 5-4 majority, based on an analysis of the draft map of the nine districts. The map still needs to pass a federal check to verify that minority voting power is not unfairly diluted.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature, expected in the coming days, will send the bill to Washington. Barring federal objections, the maps are expected to be confirmed by the end of May. The legislators, Paris said, drew up a document that they think is “constitutionally sound and representative of the political demographics of Bibb County.”

The initial election for the mayor and all the new commission seats would take place in November 2013.

But first the question goes before Bibb County voters this July 31. It needs a majority approval in all of Bibb County -- including Macon and Payne City -- and also Macon separately to become law. The last time Bibb County voters considered a consolidation proposal was 1976.

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