District 7 race draws new blood, no incumbents

mstucka@macon.comAugust 20, 2013 

Though most Macon-Bibb County commission districts feature at least one political incumbent, voters in District 7 will get to pick from candidates who have never been elected.

Neither Eric Arnold nor Barry Bell has ever run for office, and W.F. “Scotty” Shepherd quips that he ran twice for sheriff but “I was blessed and didn’t win.”

District 7 follows along Interstate 75 through south Bibb, reaching north to parts of Rocky Creek Road. A Telegraph analysis shows the district leans Republican but with an unusual diversity that ranges from the poor, generally black Village Green neighborhood to Rutland-area enclaves that lean toward white Republicans.

All three candidates say their experience can help the new government save money by working efficiently.

Arnold, a computer programmer, said he’s heard a friend had to get paper forms from three different places to start a business. A one-stop business licensing process, which might even be done online, has been talked about for years in Bibb County. Another of Arnold’s friends downloaded a marriage license form, filled it out, printed it, and then had to watch as someone else retyped it, he said.

“Technology is one of the biggest expenses of any organization, and knowing what we need, the price point, I think I can help out with that,” said Arnold, 38. “We’re so scared of change. I think we can make things a lot easier.”

Bell, owner and manager of Oakview Golf Course, sees waste at every roadside, where spraying for weeds would reduce the need to cut the grass as often. But Bell has bigger targets in mind.

“Time management, I’m going to emphasize that,” said Bell, 51. “I don’t want to cut any jobs. I just want to use the time spent to get more work done.”

Shepherd, a retired major from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, wants to see whether more services, such as trash collection, can be completely privatized. He’s also aiming at a somewhat different target for a better government.

“For the most part they are, but there are employees that are not nice to the public. If you pick up the phone and call a certain department and ask for help in paying taxes or asking to get something fixed on a tax bill, it’s like you’re bothering them,” said Shepherd, 65. “I’ve always been a proponent of, ‘You’re a public servant. You’re here to serve the public.’ ”

The district also includes a substantial chunk of undeveloped land as well as great highway access to Interstates 75 and 475 from the Hartley Bridge Road and Sardis Church Road exits. Bibb County also is planning a new recreation park in the area. All of that suggests southern Bibb County could be poised for growth.

Arnold said the county should review its ordinances, fees and permits “to make sure we are not only on par but better than Houston County, Jones County, Monroe County. We have the opportunity to streamline and make it so (people) have a better tax advantage for them to come here.”

Shepherd said the county needs to continue working to improve crime statistics and education, while listening to business owners and real estate agents for ways to improve.

“We’re in a good location in Middle Georgia, and people should be coming to shop from Byron, Centerville and Warner Robins,” he said. “Just the opposite is true now.”

Bell said more businesses would come if the county did a better job of producing better-educated citizens. He wants to see District 7 get a better motel with a restaurant, a veterinarian, a dentist -- and bigger employers.

“District 7 has got the two most accessible exits I’m aware of in Georgia with an abundance of land to build on. I want to work with economic development to court these potential businesses,” he said.

Early voting in the Sept. 17 election begins Monday.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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