Warner Robins council fights over plane near I-75; votes for T-33

chwright@macon.comJuly 1, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- An argument between Warner Robins council members and Mayor Chuck Shaheen engulfed Monday’s precouncil meeting as they debated what kind of plane should be displayed near the city’s entrance next to Interstate 75.

“I’m not arguing with them,” Shaheen said after the meeting. “I’m arguing for the taxpayer dollars.”

Shaheen said it will cost less to relocate a T-33 currently in front of the recreation department and take less time. However, Councilmen Mike Daley and Mike Brashear said the community and businesses have been promised an F-15, which they said better represents the work done at Robins Air Force Base.

“The F-15 represents today’s United States Air Force,” Brashear said. “It’s what is stationed on bases around the United States and around the world.”

Ultimately, council voted unanimously to pay $25,000 to relocate a T-38. But the plane the mayor discussed is a T-33.

“I don’t know that we’ve yet determined which aircraft we’re putting out there,” Daley said after the meeting.

Brashear said there was confusion beyond the bid on what they were approving. A second measure they unanimously approved, except for absent Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins, earmarked $25,000 from the Bureau of Civic Affairs budget. It had been approved in January 2012, but the money was never set aside.

Before the council meeting where the votes were cast, confusion reigned at the precouncil meeting in a scene from council past as Brashear and Daley entered a heated debate with Shaheen but few clear details surfaced.

Brashear and Daley argued the T-33, a trainer plane, has never been part of Robins Air Force Base and hasn’t been built in more than five decades.

“Do you want something that goes back to 1959 representing our city or a frontline fighter?” Brashear asked after the meeting.

Jim Balletto, of the Redevelopment Agency board, has worked for the past three years on logistics to refurbish the fighter jet and move it from Robins Air Force Base to the Centerville and Warner Robins exit. He’s solicited donations, obtained land permissions and reported to the RDA board for that plan.

But Shaheen said Monday it was never an RDA project, and Col. Michael Gaspar of Robins told him and Gary Lee, Redevelopment Agency executive director, moving the plane from one end of Watson Boulevard to the other was “a logistical nightmare.” Lee said the F-15 is three times the size of the T-33, speaking of its weight.

Shaheen said relocating the T-33 would cost about $25,000, while relocating the F-15 would cost about $80,000. The F-15 would take another five months to move, while the T-33 could be moved in the next 30 days. The F-15 would then be stationed in front of the Recreation Department.

After the meeting, Brashear refuted the mayor’s time and money savings claims. The councilman said though relocating the T-33 costs less, it will still cost money to move the F-15 to the Recreation Department. He added that the F-15 is only five feet wider; the size difference is in length.

Brashear said Balletto has raised $7,500 in actual money but received pledges of in-kind work and funding from community organizations, such as Flint Energies and Robins Federal Credit Unit.

Shaheen said money that has been donated for the F-15 project won’t be needed for the T-33 project, and will be moved into the city’s general fund.

Also Monday, council unanimously agreed to promote Joe Segreto, a network administrator, as the new information technology manager. Segreto has worked for the city since June 2002.

Council also read an ordinance that would eliminate the mayor’s ability to unilaterally approve 10 percent raises for employees, and an ordinance that would lift a restriction against elected officials’ relatives working for the city. Shaheen said city employees are concerned they will no longer will eligible for a raise without council approval.

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