Runoff candidates face off in forum

pramati@macon.comOctober 10, 2013 

With only three days of voting left, candidates for offices in the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government spent Thursday continuing to get the word out about their campaigns.

Mayoral candidates Robert Reichert and C. Jack Ellis joined commission candidates Henry Ficklin, Larry Schlesinger, Mallory Jones III, Beverly Olson, Ed DeFore, Adah Roberts and Charles Jones at Idle Hour Country Club for a political forum sponsored by the Middle Georgia Association of Realtors. Virgil Watkins, who faces Charles Jones in the Tuesday runoff, was not present at the forum.

Candidates were given three minutes to tell those in attendance about their backgrounds and plans for the new government, and one minute to answer questions from the audience.

Ellis, Macon’s first black mayor, told the audience about having watched the city move from a divided community to one that is progressing. He listed among his accomplishments as balancing eight budgets in a row, beginning construction on the Macon Marriott City Center, refurbishing Terminal Station and revitalizing neighborhoods such as Pleasant Hill and Beall’s Hill.

“We must expand and grow this economy,” he said. “We must increase the number of jobs. Otherwise, we’ll make more people dependent on government.”

Reichert recounted his history as a Macon councilman, state representative and current mayor for the past six years. He said is most proud of what is expressed as the city’s current strategic plan to “create a more cohesive community that attracts opportunity, enhances the quality of life, promotes pride and inspires hope.”

“That, I think, is what we’ve done in these last six years,” he said. We’ve convinced people to grab on to the future and to come together as a community, to put the divisiveness behind us. We’re not a city, we’re not a county -- we’re a community.”

Reichert said the role of the new mayor will be to “quarterback” the new commission and work with the county’s constitutional officials such as the sheriff to get things done.

Ellis said the new mayor will have to be an “effective communicator” to the commission and create a clear vision, working together as a team to “make this a better place to live, work and play.”

When asked about what he would do about the number of burglaries and break-ins in Macon, Ellis noted that he’s been the victim of burglary three times. He said he wants to work with neighborhoods and get more lights on the streets.

Reichert said he plans on working with the sheriff’s office to increase patrols in neighborhoods. He praised the efforts of current neighborhood watch programs in the city, and hopes to work with Workforce Development and the Bibb County school system to steer dropouts toward jobs rather than criminal activity.

The candidates also were asked about property taxes and how they might change given the new government is mandated to reduce its budget by 20 percent over a four-year period.

Reichert said he’s steered the city to getting more money from sales tax to take the pressure off property owners and collect revenue from people who live outside of Bibb County. Ellis said he disagreed with this strategy, saying it leaves Macon subject to the whim of the national economy, which can be volatile. Both men said they want to increase jobs and industry in the county.

Among the commission candidates at the forum:

• In District 2, Ficklin told audience members about his experience as a councilman, including 12 years as head of the Finance Committee, and helping previous efforts to combine departments. He said he and DeFore were responsible for the ordinance that put video surveillance in convenience stores.

Schlesinger noted that the economic crisis in 2008 hurt the real estate market and how crucial that market is to the local economy. He said he wants to see how local government can help, mainly by creating jobs and educating workers, making safe neighborhoods and combating blight.

• In District 4, Mallory Jones -- a Realtor himself -- noted that Bibb County showed only a 1 percent population growth in the 2010 census, while surrounding counties saw increases of more than 20 percent. He said he wants a one-stop shop for licenses and permits, a trainable work force and to decrease crime, especially property-related crimes such as burglary.

Olson said it was going to take time for the new government to work together and finish the process of consolidating the city and county. She wants to enhance education by using recreation centers to offer tutoring and programs to help youth avoid becoming criminals.

• In District 6, DeFore touted his 42 years of service as a councilman, which includes being a former appointee to the school board and a current member of the Macon Water Authority. He noted that he helped start recreation centers throughout the community.

Roberts, a former Realtor and current CPA, said her six years as Macon’s finance director gave her insight as to how each department is run. She noted that education can often be a deciding factor when people are considering coming to a community.

• In District 8, Charles Jones spoke of being a community leader even before being elected to city council, helping to fight the war on drugs in various Macon neighborhoods. He said it’s important to fix the blighted housing issue in Macon and put those properties back on the tax rolls.

Veronica Spann, who attended the forum, said the answers provided by some of the candidates were useful in that she wasn’t as impressed with some of the long-serving candidates’ responses.

“We need new elected officials,” she said. We need fresh minds and ideas. ... We need new blood.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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