Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart kicked off his campaign Wednesday to become the first mayor of the consolidated Macon-Bibb County government.
Speaking to a crowd of about 30 people in Mulberry Street Park near the county courthouse, Hart said the new government, to be seated in January, will need to take a regional approach in order to thrive. Commissioners from Houston and Monroe counties attended Harts news conference.
We cant think of ourselves as just one community, Hart said. We have to work with Houston County, Monroe County, Peach County -- all the counties in the area. We have to think regionally to bring in the resources we need. We cant afford to go to Washington and Atlanta as a single (Macon and Bibb County).
Trying to get resources as a region rather than a single city or county can help roughly half a million people instead of just 150,000 living in Bibb County.
Hart said the new government will need continuity of leadership as well as a county mayor who can bring the community together.
I am that continuity, he said.
Harts announcement puts him in the mix for the mayors race with former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis and previous mayoral and county commission chairman candidate David Cousino. They both announced just after voters approved the consolidation bill last July of their intentions to run for mayor of the consolidated government.
Later Wednesday, The Telegraph learned that Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen also are planning mayoral runs. Neither has scheduled an official announcement, although Reichert has already informed his department heads he intends to run, according to his spokesman, Chris Floore.
Hart, 71, has held elected office for nearly two decades.
He was first elected to the Bibb County Commission in 1996 and defeated incumbent Charlie Bishop to become chairman in 2008. He won re-election last November by defeating Tom Wagoner.
Hart said major challenges for the new government include economic development, public safety and the need to reduce the budget by 20 percent over the next five years. He said he plans to look into outsourcing as one way to trim the budget, but he said he doesnt have specific departments in mind. Hart also said he hopes technology and working with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission can help streamline some of the new governments costs.
Hart said his experience and work bringing the community together are reasons why voters should choose him. He noted he already has good working relationships with the sheriffs office and Macon-Bibb County Fire Department. He said Bibb County already is reaping benefits from the special purpose local option sales tax he supported in 2011.
I want to appeal to the diversity of the community, he said. I dont want to be identified with just one segment.
Laurie Lankin, who worked with Hart at Mercer University, attended Wednesdays news conference as a show of support.
Ive known Sam since I came to Macon, she said. Ive followed his career as a lawmaker. ... I think hes done a great job. Its such a momentous occasion for Macon and Bibb County to be combined. We have some other good leaders running, but I was waiting for Sam to announce.