Last week, the morning after facing several dozen residents miffed about plans to put Bibb Countys new animal shelter in their backyard, Joe Allen was at the Bloomfield Community Center meeting with a room full of mothers seeking help getting Christmas toys for their children.
Allen was taking the first round of applications for Kids Yule Love, a charity he founded 27 years ago, which the longtime Bibb County commissioner sees as his calling.
Ive had people say I do this just to get elected. I did Kids Yule Love before I ever thought about county commissioner, Allen said as a second round of parents entered the room.
Allens challenger for the Bibb County Commission District 4 seat, Robert Abbott, wasnt at Bloomfield, but he has tagged along for the past year at almost every other meeting where county government was on the agenda, including Allens town hall gathering on the animal shelter, soaking in as much information as he can for his first bid for public office.
I think Ive missed one commission meeting. I was out of town, says Abbott, a Republican.
Allen, who has served 18 years on the County Commission and describes himself as a conservative Democrat, doesnt mind looking up and seeing his opponent in the crowd. In fact, he encourages it.
Hes running for this seat. If something happens and I get defeated, he knows whats going on there, Allen said. Hes a friend, and Im glad he comes to all the meetings. Its not my seat. Its not his seat. Its all the peoples seat.
The race is proving to be one of the more amiable ones in recent memory. Abbott echoes Allens sentiments about the race being for the seat and not against each other.
Were friends. Were not enemies, Abbott said. I dont believe in dirty politics. We both agreed not to talk negatively about each other.
The election is for a one-year term as the county prepares for consolidation that goes into effect in January 2014. Abbott says hes running as if its a five-year term, while Allen says he plans to keep a promise to voters that, if re-elected, he will not seek a seat on the nine-member commission that will run the new consolidated government. He is not, however, ruling out a run for the new governments mayor or for the Macon Water Authority, on which he served a year and a half in between terms on the commission.
Allen was a strong proponent for consolidation, which voters approved in July.
I spent my own money to try to get Bibb County consolidated. I did my own commercials, he said. I went door to door.
Abbott, an AT&T retiree, calls himself a budget guy, having formerly owned a business. He expects the commission to lay the groundwork for consolidation next year before beginning to see some savings the following year.
Theres no way you can plan until the consolidation (task force) is finished. Were covering new ground here. Youll have to spend some money to get this thing settled, then you figure out what needs to be done.
Fresh ideas vs. experience
Abbott sees his lack of political experience as an asset.
I think people who have been in office for 20 years have run out of ideas, he said. A new person would put some new ideas on the table.
He plans to push for term limits and nonpartisan local elections. Among his fresh ideas is a coordinator hired to oversee all projects funded by the special purpose local option sales tax approved a year ago. That person could look for savings that might be used to lengthen the runway at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, he said.
Once that tax and another SPLOST expires, Abbott wants to explore having legislation passed that would roll those sales taxes over into regular local penny taxes used to provide property tax relief.
Collection mechanisms are already in place, he said. Theres people who live in the city and county and dont pay a dime other than sales tax. ... When you lower the tax burden on property owners, thats going to make it a whole lot more enticing for companies to come here and create jobs.
Abbotts also proposing putting in a system to collect methane gas at the landfill to generate energy -- and revenue for the county. He also wants to convert all of the countys fleet of vehicles -- at least the ones that travel exclusively within the county -- to natural gas, which he says will save 50 percent in fuel costs.
Plus they run cleaner, Abbott said. Theres less wear and tear on the engine, so you will save on maintenance costs.
Allen is certainly no newcomer to local politics. Before holding public office, he served as pension representative for the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department. In 1969, he founded the Macon Youth League and later helped then-Mayor Ronnie Thompson develop a master plan that created some of the citys recreation centers such as Bloomfield.
He is chairman of the commissions human resources, recreation and Lake Tobesofkee committees, and he plans to use the one-year term to focus on expanding recreation opportunities, especially those in the countys unincorporated areas.
Lizellas been left out of the rec plan, he said. Seniors have been left out of the rec plan.
He also plans to continue his push for a public-private partnership to develop rental cabins and perhaps amusements at Lake Tobesofkee.
We dont have the personnel to take care of it. Were right in the middle of the state, right between Nashville (Tenn.) and Orlando (Fla.). What better place to have a venue than here? You get people in there and start having their minds work together. Youve got to start thinking about the future, and not now or the past.
Voters who look for Allens campaign signs wont find them this year. Hes not putting up any, saying hed rather spend his time working on his charities -- Kids Yule Love, Seniors Yule Love and God Yule Love.
I think Ive done a good job. I think Ive answered to the people, Allen said. Signs dont vote. People vote for people because of their actions, for what they do for the community.
If people want to elect me, theyll elect me. If not, it wont hurt my feelings.
Whatever the elections outcome, its unlikely there will be hard feelings between the candidates. During a break between commission committee meetings two weeks ago, Allen and Abbott had lunch together at Jeneanes, the downtown diner where conversation often turns to solving the citys and countys problems, if not the worlds. As Abbott picked up the tab, Allen offered to help him put up his campaign signs.
I trust you, Abbott said with a grin. But I dont trust you with my signs.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.