District 2 race pits political vets, young office seeker

wcrenshaw@macon.comAugust 13, 2013 

Two Macon city councilmen and a former mayoral candidate are vying for the District 2 commission seat in the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.

The District 2 candidates are councilmen Henry Ficklin and Larry Schlesinger, and Paul Bronson, a former Macon-Bibb firefighter who resigned to run for mayor in 2011.

Ficklin, 64, is a retired Bibb County teacher and the pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church. He served 28 years on city council before resigning in 2007 to run for mayor. In 2010 he was elected to the Ward 3, Post 2 council seat. He holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Mercer University.

One of the biggest challenges the commission will face is a legal mandate to reduce spending by 20 percent in the first five years of the consolidated government.

“I think that’s a very high requirement for any government to make, especially when you are talking about the times we are in,” he said. “But I think because we are mandated to do it, we will be able to do it simply because of the mandate.”

Ficklin said one way to achieve savings is through attrition in personnel.

“By not filling some positions as people retire, we will have an opportunity to combine positions and really just cut out positions,” he said.

Ficklin also said the mandate allows an exemption for public safety spending. Many expenditures, such as road work, relate in some way to public safety, he said, and that may allow some flexibility on meeting the mandate.

On reducing crime, Ficklin said he will support the sheriff in what he thinks needs to be done.

“We have a very able sheriff and knowledgeable sheriff,” he said. “I think he would have more insight into what to do than most anybody else. We need to listen to the sheriff and give him what he needs to get the job done.”

Ficklin said he believes services will improve under consolidation, and he said more business and industry will look at the county as a result of it.

Getting the new government off to a good start is key, and his experience will help achieve that, he said.

Schlesinger, 62, is the rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Macon. He has held the Ward 3, Post 1 council seat since 2007 and serves as the council’s president pro tem. He holds a doctorate of divinity from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

Schlesinger also said he believes the 20-percent spending reduction will be achieved because of the mandate. He said it is too soon to know exactly where the cuts might come.

“Anything that may be deemed wasteful is obviously what we are going to look for first,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what this new government is going look like, so I can’t be all that specific at this time.”

Despite many high-profile crimes this year, crime -- statistically speaking -- is on the decrease, Schlesinger said.

“Obviously one crime is too many,” he said. “The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer, and I will do everything I can to support and cooperate with him in the mission of further reducing crime.”

Schlesinger said his primary focus is economic development, and one of the best ways to do that is to improve education.

“Even though we are not the school board, there are ways to support the efforts of the school board,” he said.

He said he would like to create a “one-stop shop” where start-up businesses can go to take care of all their needs related to the government.

“We just need to do whatever we can to promote business,” he said. “We really want to make it easy for anybody who wants to go into business in Macon, no matter what the size of their operation may be.”

Bronson, 28, is a substitute teacher and serves in the Army Reserve, where he has done career counseling and recruitment. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fort Valley State University and expects to graduate soon with a master’s in mental health counseling.

Bronson said that in reaching the 20-percent cut mandate, he would not advocate cutting any jobs.

“The last resort is to get rid of jobs,” he said. “I think we need to look at reducing wasteful spending and get it down to the best of our ability.”

He said if there certain jobs are not needed in consolidation, then those people could be moved to other positions and retirement incentives can also be given.

Bronson said his youth gives him some insight into the crime problem and why young people get themselves in trouble. He believes much of the issue is that youths don’t have enough to do, and he supports improving recreational opportunities and organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club.

“A lot of times kids will act out and go out and join gangs and do things that’s against the law because they want attention,” he said. “We have to find ways to get our kids involved on a positive note.”

Rather than tearing down dilapidated housing, he said he would like to see the new government put money into fixing up those houses for veterans and the elderly.

The nonpartisan election to choose the new government is set for Sept. 17.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.


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