The recently elected Macon-Bibb County Commission is a fairly broad mix of people trying to work on common goals to move the new consolidated government forward.
Six of the nine members are currently serving either on the soon-to-be-defunct Macon City Council or Bibb County Commission, while the other three members have never held public office. The racial mix is five white members and four black members, but the biggest split is along gender lines. District 3 Commissioner-elect Elaine Lucas is the lone woman on the team.
It does give me a unique perspective, said Lucas, a longtime Macon councilwoman. I expect to champion certain issues. Being a woman brings me a unique perspective on womens and youth issues. Its important that all segments are represented. ... I am honored and flattered to be the first female commissioner.
The commissioners will get a crash course in the expectations for the consolidated government. County Mayor-elect Robert Reichert has been setting up one-on-one meetings with them, and he wants at least five meetings with everyone over the final few months before the new government convenes in January.
District 1 Commissioner-elect Gary Bechtel met Friday with Reichert and said he and the mayor are on the same page when it comes to how the new government needs to function.
We talked about different things, Bechtel said. He told me his ideas on how we need to be organized, and I told him my ideas on how we need to be organized. We agreed we need to focus on the big picture and not get bogged down in little things.
Meanwhile, some commissioners are paying close attention to the work of the Macon-Bibb County Consolidation Task Force, a group responsible for putting the merger plan in place.
Im going to finish out my term on City Council as strong as possible, District 8 Commissioner-elect Virgil Watkins said. Largely, Ive been learning about the work of the new government and (will) begin sifting through that process, receiving (the task forces) ideas. Theyve been working pretty diligently.
Scotty Shepherd, elected to District 7, said hes trying to get to know his fellow commissioners better.
We know some things that are happening, he said. Were talking to each other. Were making plans to set up some meetings so that when we go in, we work as a team. ... I think this group thats been elected will get along real well.
Macon Councilman Larry Schlesinger and Bibb County Commissioner Bert Bivins, commissioners-elect for Districts 2 and 5 respectively, said team-building is most critical in the next two months.
I think the first order of business is to come together as a team, Schlesinger said. Weve got to come together as a team and move this city ahead, something we havent been able to do in years. I think we need a vision and get some goals together as a group for the first 90 days (in office).
(Working together) is the first thing Im concerned about, Bivins said. As a group, weve got to decide how were going to work together and set a budget.
One of the major differences that current council members will have to get used to is working with constitutional officers such as the sheriff and tax commissioner, Bivins said.
District 9 Commissioner-elect Al Tillman said one of the key first issues for the new government will be getting employees in place, since many of the departments that operate separately in the city and the county -- finance, human resources, public works, etc. -- will be merged into single departments.
We have two clerks, two secretaries, two (chief administrative officers) and so on, he said, acknowledging that decisions must be made about who would get certain jobs in the new government.
It remains to be seen how well the commissioners will work together on legislation. Most of Bibb Countys legislation is debated during committee, and by the time it reaches the full commission for a vote, commissioners already have reached a consensus. On the other hand, City Council meetings over the past several years often become contentious, and just because something makes it through committee doesnt mean it will get full council approval.
Some members have specific ideas they want to focus on once they are sworn in. Shepherd and District 4 Commissioner-elect Mallory Jones said their top priority is a one-stop shop for businesses to get licenses and permits to make the process more efficient.
We need to do an even better job of creating new opportunities for businesses to come here, Jones said. Were not growing as a population -- only 1 percent growth. ... In the first 90 days, Id like to set up a one-stop shop as soon as we can do it.
Schlesinger agreed, taking a broader focus and talking about improved economic development in general, including bringing in more jobs and creating an educated workforce. He also wants crime numbers to continue to trend downward and wants to deal with poverty and blight issues.
All these things are connected, he said.
Lucas said she already has begun asking District 3 residents to serve on citizen advisory committees for the various neighborhoods within the district. These committees would allow her to be in better touch with residents concerns.
Bivins said he plans to look at various road and neighborhood revitalization projects that he wants included in the next special purpose local option sales tax. He said the current SPLOST wont cover all those issues.
Thats one of the most critical problems we have going on, he said.
With the exception of District 6 Commissioner-elect Ed DeFore, who could not be reached for this story, all the commissioners in the new government said they hope to start with a clean slate and not get involved in past political squabbles.
Lucas, who has often been a vocal critic of Reichert, said she doesnt plan on carrying any grudges.
I think mature people can disagree and move forward, she said.
Bechtel, who saw his fair share of contentious board meetings while serving on the Bibb County school board, agreed.
Its important that there are no hidden agendas, he said. We might disagree, but we dont have to be disagreeable. We dont want to replicate all of the unfortunate events that led to in-fighting.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.