Endorsement: Mayor of the new consolidated government

August 25, 2013 

In football, the quarterback is the captain on the field. In baseball, the manager directs the action. In basketball, the center -- most times, unless the player is LeBron James -- is the focal point of the offense. In politics, at least local politics, the mayor directs the course of the municipality or the county. In the case of the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government, the mayor will lead the entire county as the city government officially fades away.

In some respects, the mayor will have fewer powers under the new charter. Section 9 of House Bill 1171, the legislation that spells out mayoral powers, states: “The mayor shall be the presiding officer of the commission but shall not be a voting member of the commission; provided, however, that the mayor may cast a vote on any matter before the commission to break a tie. The mayor may propose ordinances in the same manner as a commissioner.”

This is not to imply there are no intrinsic mayoral powers. The elected mayor will have been selected by the majority of voters throughout the county. That gives him a type of mandate depending on the margin of victory. The mayor also has veto powers, but can be overridden by the other commissioners. The mayor also appoints all department heads, with the commission’s approval, and other positions such as the county attorney and city manager. They will serve at the “pleasure of the mayor,” according to the legislation. The mayor’s job is considered full time and pays $100,000, a paltry sum for someone responsible for running an almost $200 million annual enterprise, and while a county manager will handle the day-to-day operation of the county, the mayor will have plenty on his plate. He will be responsible for whittling away at a budget that the legislation mandates be cut 20 percent by the 2019 budget. If the mayor is re-elected in 2016 and thus serves his limit of two terms in office, the entire financial brunt of consolidation will rest on his shoulders. He will be the chief architect of any reduction in force that many understand as a necessary move to reach budget goals.

Who would want such a job? There are six candidates. Four have been, or are, the chief executive for Bibb County or the city of Macon: Mayor Robert Reich­ert and Commission Chairman Sam Hart; former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis and former County Commission Chairman Charles Bishop. Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen and David Cousino, who has not served elected office, round out the field.

Which of these men have the temperament and talent to lead this new government? All of the candidates are pretty well-known, and their past performance is an indicator of what they would do if elected. Without rehashing details of the fights between the county and the city, financial woes and the malaise that followed, our Citizens Advisory Board and Editorial Board narrowed the choices to two: Sam Hart and Robert Reichert.

It’s hard to mention one without the other, particularly when discussing consolidation. They teamed up, unlike past leaders, to complete the effort by presenting a united front to voters, and consolidation was approved after almost 100 years and six failed attempts. The old animosity of the city versus the county started to disappear with Hart’s “Think Community” efforts. Reichert returned the city to fiscal sanity and managed to carve out a winning coalition in the fractious 15-member City Council.

Another joint achievement was the last special purpose local option sales tax. The proceeds are going to a much needed recreation overhaul, the Second Street Corridor, fire stations, roads and a Juvenile Justice Center. The SPLOST is paying for Fort Hawkins and Bowden Golf Course improvements. The economic development portion of the SPLOST is directly responsible for attracting Tractor Supply and eliminating encroachment issues north of Robins Air Force Base.

The next three years will be challenging. If history is a teacher, there will be hiccups and a few train wrecks along the path of the merging city and county government. Even though we have had a longer period of time to prepare than other communities that have consolidated, the unexpected will certainly present itself.

The Citizens Advisory Board and the Editorial Board, after extensive interviews with all the candidates, have determined that Robert Reichert would be the best choice to guide the team during this transition period. Unlike Hart, who only has had to count to three (it takes three commissioners to pass any legislation), Reichert has had to deal with a much larger, more rambunctious crew, and some members of that crew could make up the new commission. Reichert has had to do it, unlike the county, facing constant financial pressures. Fortunately, the county has always had a financial cushion where the city has had to create one. Keeping that cushion will be very difficult to do in the coming months and years.

Robert Reichert is our choice.

These endorsements are the work of the Citizens Advisory Board and The Telegraph Editorial Board. Not all members of either board were present for all 29 interviews; however, only those members present for all the candidates in a district could vote for the endorsement. Those members involved in political campaigns did not participate in the interviews in those districts.

The Citizens Advisory Board, Charles Bass, Bob Berlin, Gigi Cabell, Bill Curry, Amy Elton, Mary Lou Ezell, Shawn Fritz, Philip Lengel, Leroy Mack, Jonathan Merrill, Don McGouirk, Giles O’Neal, Gene Strouss and Betty Toussaint.

The Editorial Board, Don Bailey, publisher; Sherrie Marshall, executive editor; and Opinion Page Editor Charles E. Richardson.

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