OEDEL: Entrenchment or experience?

May 19, 2013 

Jabs have issued from across the political spectrum, from Erick Erickson on the right to the Telegraph’s editors on the left, about the line-up of well-worn, old-guard folks standing for election to lead the newly-consolidating Macon-Bibb government. The roster includes, alphabetically, Joe Allen, Charlie Bishop, David Cousino, Jack Ellis, Sam Hart, and Robert Reichert.

I lean against the “too old and tired” entrenchment critique for several reasons.

First, almost all will lose, and those losers don’t need any preliminary chastisement. Even if they gain something from being in the limelight temporarily, losing can’t be fun -- which probably contributes to the absence of newcomers on the roster. These six folks already know what it’s like publicly to lose, and can handle it. That shows some collective character. Meanwhile, the ultimate winner won’t have won by being too old and slack.

My second reason for not piling on is that the three front-running candidates all have plausible rationales for why their leadership in particular would be desirable.

Ellis best channels the concerns of African American citizens and traditional outsiders, largely overlapping interest groups that constitute a Bibb majority.

Hart’s cool, calm and consensual approach would be best for quietly healing long-standing racial rifts in the community while moving ahead with a positive, team-like approach to growth.

Reichert has the most detailed understandings, best analytical skills, and most clearly articulated plans for making consolidation work as a practical matter.

A third reason for welcoming a known quantity this time in particular is because of the apparent advent of nonpartisan elections for the first time in the popular selection of local leadership. Some have objected that the absence of party labels will make it hard to know a candidate’s predilections.

Although there remains some legal doubt about whether the nonpartisan format will be allowed by the feds, some fairness problems with nonpartisan elections can be avoided with this roster because we don’t need party emblems to know where they stand.

A fourth reason is the benefit of practical experience going into the delicate consolidation process. Knowing the ins and outs of tricky subjects like pension policies, and knowing some of the individual players and the stories behind particular budget line-items, should prove helpful in making the merger work while saving costs.

A fifth reason is predictability for other merger players. Especially with an uncertain organizational format unfolding, it’d be useful for others to know the captain already, which could simplify their own jobs as they pitch in to help the new government get on its feet.

Sure, I’d also like to have seen women and younger folks with fresher ideas in the mix. But this isn’t a bad group vying for the job at this transitional time. Bibb’s citizens should be fairly well served in the transition process by their final choice among experienced hands, and this roster does at least provide some clear choices.

Which is not to say that the leading candidates are problem-free. Ellis can be flamboyantly polarizing, as he displayed by temporarily adopting a Muslim name. Hart can be overly quiescent, though he did show some spine recently by trying to buck GDOT’s plan for an overblown fix to the I-16/I-75 interchange. Reichert can be startlingly bull-headed. Examples include continuing to push the Promise Neighborhood Center lease, Forest Hill’s super-sizing, and the overblown interstate interchange.

No candidate is perfect, but these candidates are plausible. May the best man for the public good win -- and many thanks to the rest for sharpening the voting public’s sense of having a meaningful choice.

When consolidation is complete four years from now, the time will come for younger, fresher leaders to take charge. This time, it’d be sensible for the top three candidates to make a one-term pledge, acknowledging that they’ve all already had more than a full term leading either Macon or Bibb, and a two-term consecutive leadership limit has always been, and will be for Macon-Bibb, the law. Any one of those three who won’t take that pledge could fairly be crowned today as wannabe King of Entrenchment.

Oedel teaches law at Mercer University.

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