How much and how quickly residents can participate in the Macon-Bibb County consolidation process likely will depend on the fate of a grant application to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
If approved, the grant would pay for new video equipment to record and broadcast consolidation meetings, a survey of many households, public meetings around the county to gather residents feedback, and a website hosting all consolidation-related information.
In a July 31 referendum, city and county residents approved creation of a new, unified government. Soon after that vote, Beverly Blake, local program director for the Knight Foundation, said she was very interested in funding public engagement efforts, said Chris Floore, Macons public affairs director. Floore and Kevin Barrere, Bibb County governments public affairs officer, are the communications team for the 15-member task force working on consolidation.
Blake said the Knight Foundation approached the task force when it became clear the consolidation charter had passed.
Knight believes that for democracy to thrive in a community, its important to have open government, she said. Its important to have the systems in place to allow citizens and residents to communicate with their government as well as to receive timely, accurate and actionable information.
Even before theres substantial funding, however, the task force is seeking public input online. A 21-question survey is posted at www.co.bibb.ga.us/Survey/Default.aspx.
A mix of yes-or-no, multiple choice and requests for lengthier comments, the survey takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete. It asks what people want to see the new government do, what they want to know about consolidation and how they want to get that information.
On Dec. 6, Floore and Barrere gave the task force a proposed communications budget of $62,142. Thats the amount sought from the Knight Foundation. Floore said the foundation urged them to assemble a pie in the sky program for the best possible public-engagement effort.
If the grant doesnt come through, weve got to revisit it all, he said Thursday.
The budgets biggest item is $28,370 for high-end video and web streaming equipment, though mid-range and low-quality prices were also given, for $20,355 and $17,705 respectively. For now, the task force is using Macons equipment to record and stream its meetings, which is roughly comparable to the low-quality video option and may not always be available. Meetings so far can be viewed online at www.maconbibb.tv.
Any new equipment the task force buys would become property of the new consolidated government.
Another $10,000 would be used to develop a website for the transition effort and new government, on which all consolidation-related information could be posted.
Theres a $9,000 advertising budget, and close behind is $8,772 to mail opinion surveys to 15,000 households, roughly one residence in five in Bibb County.
Barrere and Floore hoped to send those out in early January, but Blake said a decision on the grant isnt expected until mid-January. But the communications team can have everything ready to roll when funding is announced, so surveys could go out immediately after that.
The proposed budget includes $3,000 for visual identity development -- developing and distributing a logo for the new government -- and $1,000 for various publication costs. But one of the most visible aspects is likely to be a series of nine public meetings, one in each of the new commission districts, projected to cost $2,000.
Even more such forums could come later, but if these are held as planned in February or March, thats still roughly the halfway point in the 17-month consolidation process, Floore said.
The sooner, the better, he said. Like the online and mailed surveys, the meetings are meant not only to tell people about consolidation, but also to let the task force know what the new governments constituents want.
Its got to be ongoing throughout the entire process, and its got to be two-way, Floore said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines,call 744-4489.