Analysis: Macon-Bibb consolidation support split by geography, race

mstucka@macon.comAugust 3, 2012 

Bibb County residents who cast ballots in Tuesday’s referendum to consolidate the county, Macon and Payne City were deeply divided along geographical and racial lines, a Telegraph analysis suggests.

High turnout in predominately white areas around Vineville Avenue and north Bibb County buoyed the pro-consolidation effort, which passed in Macon, unincorporated Bibb County and Bibb County as a whole.

But the overall vote masked deep divisions within the county. While few Bibb County precincts strongly opposed consolidation, precincts in eastern, western and southern parts of the county opposed it more than they supported it. North Bibb’s strong support -- typically well above 70 percent -- and high turnout put consolidation across the finish line.

There was a racial component, too. Of 19 precincts where whites are a majority of the registered voters, 15 favored consolidation and four opposed it. Of 20 precincts where blacks make up most of the registered voters, just two precincts voted for consolidation with 18 against.

In the Hazard 3 precinct centered on Macon State College, neither whites nor blacks have a majority of the population, and a majority of voters there opposed consolidation.

The four white-majority precincts that voted against consolidation are all in south Bibb County, running from an area near the Middle Georgia Regional Airport to south Lizella. Those areas tend to vote Republican, but Republican-heavy districts in north Bibb were among the strongest supporters of consolidation.

Turnout mattered as well. In precincts where consolidation passed, 44.8 percent of registered voters cast a vote on consolidation. In precincts where consolidation failed, just 36.1 percent of registered voters participated.

Scotty Shepherd, a former Republican candidate for sheriff, said his neighbors in south Bibb County don’t think they’re well represented by politicians who live in east Bibb. Shepherd, who considers himself a conservative independent, said he told that to Bibb County Commissioners Lonzy Edwards and Bert Bivins.

“ ‘We don’t see you, we don’t hear from you, unless there’s a problem,’ ” Shepherd recounted. “A lot of us thought the consolidation effort could continue the problems.”

Shepherd declined to say how he voted on the issue.

Commissioner Joe Allen, who represents west Bibb County, said he didn’t know why south Bibb residents see the issue differently than north Bibb residents.

“(South Bibb residents) felt like they were bailing out the city,” said Allen, a consolidation supporter.

Allen said a set of community forums on consolidation, which included people on both sides of the ballot question, helped sway more people. Those forums were held at Lake Wildwood, Lake Tobesofkee and the Porter Ellis Community Center, all in south or west Bibb.

“I think if we had not had the town meetings, it would’ve killed it off,” Allen said.

A Telegraph survey of Macon City Council members and Bibb County commissioners found a strong racial divide, with whites generally favoring consolidation and blacks generally opposing it.

Allen said both sides played race cards.

“I thought we were past that. We’ve got to get past this black-and-white issue, because the color is green. The color of money is what we’ve got to focus on,” said Allen, who has argued consolidation will help the county’s population grow and attract more businesses.

Consolidation supporters used a hefty advertising campaign that spent at least $143,000, according to financial disclosures. Much of the advertising was done in black-oriented publications and featured prominent black consolidation supporters, such as former Macon NAACP President Al Tillman.

The vote to consolidate Macon and Bibb County eliminates those governments, as well as the government of Payne City. Also, a small section of Macon that’s in Jones County will be de-annexed. Those voters in Jones County and Payne City opposed consolidation.

In Payne City, the vote was 9-7 against consolidation. In the Jones County section of Macon, 31 cast votes in favor of consolidation while 55 opposed it.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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