Macon-Bibb consolidation panel packed into portion of county

jgaines@macon.comNovember 22, 2012 

Macon City Council President James Timley is a member of the task force that’s working to create a consolidated government for Macon and Bibb County, and when he looks around the table at the group’s monthly meetings he sees very familiar faces.

A little too familiar, in fact -- too neighborly.

Timley asked the Middle Georgia Regional Commission to map the home addresses of all 15 task force members. The regional commission is helping the task force with any needed staff work, and Laura Mathis, the regional commission’s deputy director, provided that map Sept. 11.

It showed just what Timley suspected: every one of the task force’s members -- including Timley himself -- lives west of the Ocmulgee River and north of Mercer University Drive.

“To me it’s really sad that the people in the southern part of the county have no representation on the transition team,” Timley said. Likewise, residents of east Macon have no neighbors determining the shape of their new government.

Nine new commissioners and a countywide mayor are to be elected in November 2013. Two-thirds of the new commission districts will cover at least part of the currently excluded areas, and the mayor will be elected at large; but the recommendations they’ll act upon when they come into office will come from the transition task force.

Ten of the task force’s members were identified by office, not by name, in the consolidation legislation that 57 percent of voters approved July 31.

The remaining five, however, were to be picked by the legislative delegation.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, who heads the local delegation and also chairs the task force, said they didn’t consider potential members’ geographic distribution.

“We took into account expertise and commitment,” she said Wednesday. “Each member of the delegation had an opportunity to submit names, and the five members of the delegation chose from that list.”

But Randall said she didn’t believe that the resulting concentration would affect task force members’ perspective on local issues.

“I think everyone (on the task force) wants what’s best for the community,” she said.

State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, is designated as the task force’s vice-chair. He agrees with Randall that addresses didn’t come up in picking members.

“I do not believe that address alone would either qualify, disqualify, or add substantive experience for this process,” Staton said via e-mail. “There are numerous people on the committee who are committed to the success of consolidation for all of the citizens of Macon-Bibb, and I include myself in that number.”

Saying “We need uniters, not dividers,” he wonders why Timley raised the issue after the choice was made.

“It is late in the game for anyone to cast aspersions upon the process or people on the task force, and I would question the motives of those who do, especially if they were against consolidation to begin with,” Staton wrote. Three weeks before the referendum, Timley described himself as “vehemently opposed” to the legislation.

The officials specified in House Bill 1171 are Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart; Commissioner Elmo Richardson, chairman of the Bibb County finance committee; Macon Mayor Robert Reichert; Councilman Tom Ellington, chairman of the city’s Finance committee; Timley; Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce board President Leonard Bevill; Macon Police Chief Mike Burns; Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena; Randall; and Staton.

The delegation’s choices for the five remaining seats were announced Aug. 23, and they went to William D. Underwood, president of Mercer University; Pearlie Toliver, retired vice president of BB&T and vice chair of the Macon Housing Authority board; Roy Fickling, president of Fickling & Co.; Jeffery Monroe, partner at the law firm Jones, Cork & Miller; and outgoing state Sen. Miriam Paris, D-Macon.

Paris said Wednesday that Randall asked her fellow legislators to submit names of those they felt were suitable candidates. Paris declined to comment on Timley’s observation, or on whether she thought the geographic concentration might skew the task force’s perceptions.

Information from Telegraph archives was used for this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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