Political Notebook: Resolving a healthy dispute

January 18, 2013 

A squabble that periodically roiled Macon City Council committees for more than two years looks like it’s finally going to be settled by the task force that’s working to unify city and county governments.

Way back in September 2010, Macon’s council approved a new employee health insurance plan, which required looking for a new plan administrator to make the expected changes. But the first step was to find a consultant to help with the search, which council members claimed they wanted to do “as soon as possible.”

But when a staff committee unanimously recommended the Atlanta office of Gallagher Benefit Services, which bid $65,000 for the job, some council members’ urgency cooled. They preferred the local office of BB&T, which had bid $15,000 less than Gallagher, though Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard said Gallagher’s experience and additional expertise made that firm the best choice.

In May 2011, Councilwoman Elaine Lucas specifically instructed Hubbard to recommend BB&T instead. Councilman Tom Ellington successfully sponsored a resolution in January 2012 that instructed staff to sign an agreement with BB&T, but administration officials resisted.

Meanwhile, Coventry Health Care of Georgia has remained as the city’s plan administrator on a short-term basis, a job it’s done since January 2006.

Dale Walker, the city’s interim chief administrative officer, said in September 2012 that Coventry would likely stay until Macon and Bibb County consolidate, a move voters approved July 31.

So now the consolidation task force’s Human Resources Committee is taking on the consultant-choosing role, with help from the Middle Georgia Regional Commission staff.

A request for proposals has gone out for a consultant to “develop health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance and vision insurance benefit options for Macon-Bibb County consolidated government,” for benefits to be in place Jan. 1, 2014, the day the new government officially begins.

The consultant’s job will include helping to find a final insurance vendor and monitoring their work through the first months of the new government. Bids must be turned in to the regional commission by Feb. 6, and the Human Resources Committee plans to have a recommendation ready for ratification at the full task force’s Feb. 20 meeting.

The fix is in

Macon and Bibb County officials have long been working to increase the number of people living in downtown Macon, particularly as a way of improving the downtown business climate.

A recent flier seemed rather counterproductive to that goal: “Free Spaying & Neutering For Residents of Bibb County In Zip Code 31201,” it read. The ZIP code includes downtown and all of its residents, both two-legged and otherwise.

To clarify, the $100,000 spay-neuter grant from PetSmart Charities Inc. is underwriting the costs of spaying and neutering pets, not people, in that ZIP code. For an appointment or information, call Macon-Bibb County Animal Welfare at (478) 751-9200.

Excused absences

The task force working on consolidating Macon and Bibb County governments canceled three meetings, all that were scheduled for this past week, the first time that’s happened since the 15-member group started work in September.

The full task force’s regular meeting Wednesday, and the Laws and Human Resources committees Thursday, were all called off. Each time the same reason was given: lack of a quorum.

But it’s not due to a lack of interest, according to Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. The task force meets at the regional commission’s Emery Highway office.

Some members were sick, others were out of town, and some -- on Thursday -- were attending the public visitation for Macon police Lt. Mark Cotton, Mathis said.

Cotton, director of the Chief Ben T. Watkins Training Academy, died last weekend of heart failure at the training facility at age 49.

No meetings have been scheduled for next week.

Governor reappoints Holcomb

Stephan F. Holcomb of Kathleen was reappointed to the Georgia Board of Dentistry by Gov. Nathan Deal. Holcomb has practiced in Warner Robins for 34 years and now works at Dental Associates of Middle Georgia in Byron, according to a state biography.

He also serves as chairman of the Robins Regional Military Affairs Committee and the Joint Commission on National Dental Exams, and he serves as a medical forensic examiner for the Georgia crime lab.

Fourth time’s the charm?

A 21st century Warner Robins ballot just wouldn’t be the same without the Rev. Jeffrey Walker’s name.

Walker jump-started his fourth bid for City Council this week, declaring his intent to run for the seat now held by Mike Daley.

The Post 1 councilman has not said whether he will seek re-election.

Qualifying for the 2013 election begins in August. Posts 3 and 5, as well as the mayoral contest, will be on the ballot.

In materials e-mailed to The Telegraph after the announcement, Walker wrote that he intends to better the community through a long list of initiatives he claims won’t cost the taxpayers “one dime.”

The measures include alleviating traffic congestion and encroachment on Robins Air Force Base and completing the Law Enforcement Center, a public transit system, an athletic complex and the Georgia Regional Aerospace Maintenance Partnership project.

“I stand before you with less strength, few or less than more days left to accomplish those visions that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and our Lord Jesus Christ have given to me for the people of Warner Robins,” Walker wrote in what appeared to be his announcement speech.

Walker ran for council in 2005, 2009 and 2011. He is a Telfair County native who describes himself as a Methodist-ordained elder and a retired pastor. He moved to Warner Robins in 1993.

Former Sen. Grant tapped for state service

Former Sen. Johnny Grant of Milledgeville was appointed by Gov. Deal to the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority. Grant served four terms in the state Senate, and he serves on the boards of a bank and several volunteer organizations.

Tea party protests debt

Janice Westmoreland of the Milledgeville Area Patriots, which are affiliated with Tea Party Patriots, is protesting President Barack Obama’s refusal to negotiate the budget when Congress debates raising the debt ceiling.

“Our President rails against not paying our debts as a country, but refuses again and again to take any meaningful steps to reduce our debts -- such as cutting spending,” Westmoreland wrote in a statement. “It is the President who is holding our economy hostage to his vision of spending more now regardless of the consequences.”

Writers Liz Fabian, Jim Gaines and Mike Stucka contributed to this report.

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