Looking for a team

August 21, 2013 

TEAM. A number of persons associated together in work or activity.

-- Merriam-Webster

Just as a football team might have a need for a wide receiver rather than an interior lineman, or a soccer team in need of a goalie rather than a midfielder, The Telegraph’s Editorial Board and Citizen Advisory Board approached the candidates seeking the nine commission seats and the mayor’s position with “team” in mind. What kind of team will the new consolidated government need to strike the right balance to propel our area forward?

A team, while made up of individuals with a variety of skills and talents, needs a unified vision to overcome the challenges it will face. One of the biggest complaints about our current arrangement, particularly City Council, is its dysfunction. We believe it was that dysfunction, real or perceived, that ultimately led voters to say enough is enough, and after almost 100 years and six failed attempts to consolidate, the measure finally passed muster.

Over the next few days we will publish the names of the people vying for office that, in our opinion, make the best team. Each individual has certain strengths and qualities necessary for the team to be able to tackle the opponents it will face. We are not saying the candidates not chosen are bad people, they are just not the right fit for the team we envision.

This team’s opponents are big, hunking issues rather than physical opponents. Consolidation, while a blessing, could be a curse if the wrong team takes the field -- and that is entirely possible.

There is the mandated cut of 20 percent (5 percent per year in years 2016-2019) all the while dealing with additional costs created by three new fire stations, a new Juvenile Justice Center and other issues that will present themselves rapidly as the new team members take their positions. The total workforce will be smaller in 2019 than it is today. Which positions will go and which will stay? That could be a huge train wreck if the team doesn’t bring its “A” game to the table. How will the new commission handle the fall in revenue? City taxpayers will see their tax burden drop and county residents will no longer have to pay a separate tax for fire protection, yet, fire protection will still exist and must be paid for.

The Citizen’s Advisory Board, Charles Bass, Bob Berlin, Gigi Cabell, Bill Curry, Amy Elton, Mary Lou Ezell, Shawn Fritz, Phillip Lengel, Leroy Mack, Jonathan Merrill, Don McGouirk, Giles O’Neal, Gene Strouss and Betty Toussaint, along with the Editorial Board, Don Bailey, publisher, Sherrie Marshall, executive editor and Opinion Page Editor Charles E. Richardson, put in hour after hour asking candidates tough questions.

While we allotted one half hour per candidate, none of the interviews were that short. Two of the 31 candidates decided they didn’t want to participate in our process and are ineligible to receive our endorsement.

Audio of the interviews are being posted at macon.com with the exception of District 8. Technical difficulties prevented all of the candidates from being recorded. You may notice an edit in some of the interviews, again, due to technical issues. None of the interviews were edited for content.

Endorsement Schedule:

Wednesday: Districts 1, 2 and 3

Thursday: Districts 4, 5 and 6

Friday: Districts 7, 8 and 9

Sunday: Mayor

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District 1: A relative newcomer to Macon, Harold Young, is challenging Gary Bechtel, who took office in January after serving 12 years on the Bibb County Board of Education.

Young exhibits an infectious enthusiasm and an interesting background of bringing diverse people together. He’s been a jack-of-all-trades -- from music producer, promoter, staffing supervisor for a major human resources firm, media salesman to the pulpit. However, those talents at this point can’t trump those of Bechtel. While the last few years of his board tenure were marked by discord, much of it of his own creation, the commission is a different animal. Bechtel is well-versed on one issue no one really wants to think about, and that is the decommissioning of the city’s landfill which will become the county’s landfill on Jan. 14. It will cost millions of dollars to close the landfill and find another location for the county’s garbage.

We hope Young stays involved and gives it another try in the future, we could use his enthusiasm, but for now, we think Gary Bechtel has the talent for our team.

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District 2: There are three well-known candidates running to represent District 2, Paul Bronson, who made a run at mayor with no prior political experience, Henry Ficklin, who served on City Council for 28 years 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. While on council he has been an integral part of the Appropriations Committee and served as its chair. According to the city’s website, he’s vice chair of Public Works and Engineering Committee. Ficklin declined an invitation to be interviewed.

Larry Schlesinger serves as president pro tem on council and has served as the citywide representative for Ward III since 2007. Schlesinger is a conscientious councilman who rarely, if ever raises his voice, but he should not be mistaken for a pushover; rather he’s a thoughtful and resourceful councilman. Rarely does he miss a community event or meeting and his commitment to his responsibilities is evident.

Again, we encourage Bronson to stay in the hunt. He brings vitality and energy, but again, we are looking for the right fit for the team and at this time Larry Schlesinger is the better candidate.

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District 3: This may be one of the most contentious races in the new consolidated government. Elaine Lucas has served on council for a total of 26 years dating back to 1983. (She lost her seat in 1987 and regained it four years later.) Lucas wears the label of firebrand proudly. Some of the derision aimed her way is undeserved, however, Lucas, rarely backs down from a fight and is known to instigate a few. She is skilled at slowing down legislation she doesn’t agree with. She was not a fan of this consolidation bill and actively campaigned against it.

Terry Tripp, served on the Bibb County School Board for six years from 2000 to 2006. Her reputation while serving was all about the children. While full of personality, she is always collegial and accessible.

While a newcomer to county government, she carries none of the baggage of a public servant who may have worn out their welcome. Tripp also understands the challenges the new government will face, particularly a reduction in force if the county is to meet its financial goals.

We believe Terry Tripp will be a welcome addition to the new Macon-Bibb County team.

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