Macon City Council voted 11-2 Tuesday night to oppose making elections for the new consolidated city-county government nonpartisan and to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the proposed change.
Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said the resolution had a dozen co-sponsors on the 15-member council.
I think thats an overwhelming show of concern about the action that was taken by the Republican-led delegation in Atlanta, she said.
The consolidation charter that voters approved in July 2012 included partisan elections, but the General Assembly changed that, voting roughly along party lines -- Republicans for nonpartisan elections, Democrats against. Macon Democratic Reps. James Beverly and Nikki Randall described the change as a bait and switch.
Before the bill passed, Macon was the only city in Georgia that still held partisan elections for local offices. The Justice Department has 60 days to approve the changes, which would also move the new governments elections from November to July.
The Bibb County Democratic Party is sending a letter to the Justice Department asking the same. Its signatories include Lucas and fellow council members Henry Ficklin and Lonnie Miley.
Lucas said Beverly requested councils support to add weight to his own Justice Department complaint.
Maybe even we need to look at the lines that were drawn, she said. Lucas, who opposed consolidation, objected to her own new district and the adjacent one, which could pit incumbent Councilmen Ficklin, Rick Hutto and Larry Schlesinger against each other.
Councilman Tom Ellington said the switch to nonpartisan elections was done in bad faith, pure and simple.
If nonpartisan elections are good enough for Bibb County, why are they not good enough for Monroe? Why are they not good enough for Houston? he said, echoing Lucas in saying that it was done to increase Republican influence in the predominantly Democratic county.
Councilman Rick Hutto said it was done to take advantage of the lower vote turnout in July, thus favoring Republicans.
I still favor nonpartisan elections, but I do not favor deceiving the voters, he said.
The resolution passed with only Councilwomen Beverly K. Olson and Nancy White voting against it. Councilmen Henry Gibson and Charles Jones were absent.
By similar margins, council approved resolutions asking that all city employees be allowed to stay in their current pension plans after consolidation, whether or not theyre already vested, and to seek recognition by the new government of the employee labor unions that the city recognizes now.
The new government, which takes effect in January 2014, would have the final say in the matter.
Ellingtons resolution asks that current city and county pension systems be kept open for all those employees, vested or not, to keep accruing benefits. The new government is likely to create a new pension plan for new hires, but current plans would have to remain in existence for decades anyway, as long as there are beneficiaries, he said. It was approved 12-1, with White voting no.
Mileys resolution wouldnt require union membership by employees of the new government, but would protect those who already are members, he said. Assistant City Attorney Stuart Morelli has said the major practical effect would be to authorize having members union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks.
It passed 11-2, with Olson and White voting no.
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.