Forum focuses on Bibb commission races

rmanley@macon.comOctober 17, 2012 

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart touted the passage of the $191 million SPLOST referendum a year ago as one his biggest accomplishments. His challenger, Tom Wagoner, characterized it as a shortcoming.

“There’s a big difference in the word ‘work’ and the word ‘job,’ ” Wagoner said Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Macon at the Brickyard at Riverside Golf Club. “There’s not a single job in here.”

Hart answered that $6 million from the sales tax proceeds earmarked to address encroachment issues with Robins Air Force Base in south Bibb “saved hundreds of jobs.” And, he noted, the $6 million in SPLOST funds for economic development helped land the $50 million Tractor Supply Co. distribution center under construction in the I-75 Business Park -- and its 200 new jobs.

Hart also touted consolidation and a service delivery strategy reached with the city as other top accomplishments under his leadership.

“We’ve got some things out there that sat around and didn’t get done because of bickering and a lot of other things,” he said. “We’ve done some things that can make a real difference.”

Sales tax revenue, Wagoner said, would have been better spent on lengthening the runway at Middle Georgia Regional Airport to allow larger planes such as 747s to land, then going after maintenance contracts.

Wagoner described himself as a “conservative independent” and touted his business experience as a qualification for the job of commission chairman.

“I run a business. I know what it’s like to create jobs. I’ve spent my life creating jobs,” he said. “I submit to you, you need change.”

Wagoner took a dig at the Tractor Supply Co. project, saying “we’ve got a work force that’s a little better than to continue to create warehouse jobs.”

If elected, he pledged to review all the county’s vending and consulting contracts.

The league also heard from candidates for the county commission’s District 4 seat -- incumbent Joe Allen and Republican challenger Robert Abbott.

Allen, who runs the Kids Yule Love charity, encouraged Bibb residents to make a difference by taking a more active role in serving the community.

“I put energy into a lot of things I don’t get paid for,” he said.

He stressed that his job on the commission extends beyond District 4.

“When I’m called upon, I go to every district where I’m called. I’ve always believed in taking care of the people.”

He noted his role as chairman of several commission committees, including human resources, recreation and Lake Tobesofkee. His service on a national commissioners association committee on finance has taught him that Bibb’s problems are not unique, he said.

“We’ve got the same problems everybody else has got. We’ve got to pull together to make things work.”

As a political newcomer, Abbott described himself as “the new baby in the room,” which he called a good thing.

“Mr. Allen said we need some fresh ideas from ‘out there,’ ” he said. “Well, I’m from ‘out there.’ ”

Tightening the county’s budget would be his main focus, Abbott said.

“We’ve got some items in the budget that should not be there. ... People who are on fixed incomes or who don’t have a lot of money are hurting. We don’t have a taxing problem. We have a spending problem.”

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop also spoke, but his opponent in the 2nd Congressional District race, Republican John House, did not attend the forum.

Bishop, who has been in Congress for 20 years, said his service on military, agriculture and appropriations committees have him “well-positioned” and “well-equipped” to serve and protect the district’s needs. He reminded the group of the budget “sequestration” -- the automatic spending cuts that were part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling -- looming at the end of the year.

“These are very, very challenging times now,” Bishop said. “We’ve got to have some adult conversations.”

Bettye Middlebrooks, who served as moderator, said the candidates gave out “a lot of information.”

“And everyone was civil,” she said.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.

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