Robert Reicherts two years of near constant campaigning, first for Macon-Bibb County consolidation and then to become mayor of the new government, ended Tuesday with his mayoral runoff win.
Now, he says, the real work begins.
Mayor of Macon since 2007, Reichert took 63 percent of the runoff vote against former Mayor C. Jack Ellis to become countywide mayor. He will take office along with nine commissioners in the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government that launches in January.
Between now and the first of the year there is a lot to do as far as bringing the commissioners-elect up to speed with everything that the transition task force has done, is doing and is recommending be done, Reichert said Friday.
The task force, set up by the state-approved consolidation charter that voters ratified in July 2012, has worked for months on knitting together Macon and Bibb County. The only one of the task forces 15 members to win a seat on the new government in this years elections, Reichert has asked Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, to schedule at least five meetings for the new commission before the end of the year. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation also has offered to pay for a two-day working retreat, Reichert said.
I think that the biggest challenge were going to have is to immediately begin to operate with the consolidated budget, he said. Cranking out the first payroll checks for nearly 2,000 employees will be the first crucial test, a few days into the new government, Reichert said.
City and county budget processes usually start in February, finishing before the June 30 end of the fiscal year. But structuring the first combined budget of about $280 million will take longer and should start as soon as the new government does, he said.
We will obviously be looking for sources of revenue other than (property) taxes, Reichert said. A major portion of that will likely be franchise fees from utility companies in the area. The city has agreements with Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light to charge a fee for service within city limits, but the new government will be able to charge companies those fees countywide, including from some small rural power companies that operate in south Bibb County. Those fees are usually passed on to the consumer.
Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, a member of the task force who did not seek an elected seat in the new government, said Reichert needs to step carefully.
Living within the communitys means without burdening the citizens with tax increases will be the new governments -- and Reicherts -- biggest challenge, Edwards said.
City Councilman Rick Hutto, who also didnt run for a Macon-Bibb commission seat, said Reichert faces both a big opportunity and a big risk.
Having won a decisive victory, he is in a unique position to tackle the serious challenges that are to come in the new government, Hutto said via email. Nobody expects us to reduce government spending by 20 percent, yet that is what the (consolidation) legislation requires.
The charter requires no budget cut the first year, but mandates a 5 percent cut in each of the following four years.
Making it work
How the new government will function politically and legislatively will have to be worked out in practice, Reichert said. The consolidation charter creates a strong mayor, weak commission, in which the mayor presides at meetings. He only votes to break a tie, but he holds veto power.
Its an interesting combination of things that theyve put together for us in the charter, Reichert said. It will be significantly different, because for the first time the mayor will have the opportunity for direct input and interaction at the meeting. That gives me the opportunity then to persuade, to work with all the members of the commission.
But thats easier said than done after drawn-out and hard-fought political campaigns, first for consolidation itself and then for the new offices, Edwards said.
The climate in the community, I think, has been poisoned by this whole electoral process, Edwards said. There were some very bitterly contested issues that came up, and some very questionable tactics that came up; and some people have long memories. And so Im a bit concerned that its going to be a huge task to figure out how to make peace between folk that you need to be successful. Im not sure that is going to happen anytime soon.
State Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, said some provisions of, and alterations to, the consolidation charter also left him with a little bit of a sour taste on how we got here -- making the Bibb County sheriff the top law enforcement officer in the new government, and the General Assemblys post-ratification charter changes such as deciding the elections would be nonpartisan, for example. Not all of those are linked directly to Reichert, but hell still have to deal with their effects, Beverly said.
Reichert said he wants to continue some longtime efforts, such as redeveloping Second Street and pushing for a Sardis Church-Sgoda Road interstate connector to serve the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. But those individual projects serve a larger goal of building a vibrant urban core -- not only the central downtown, but also surrounding neighborhoods, he said.
The ideal location of the depressed Fort Hill neighborhood gives him a chance to share goals with a frequent adversary on the Macon City Council whos the new District 3 commissioner, Reichert said.
I think that Elaine Lucas and I will have a common agenda for the redevelopment and revitalization of east Macon, he said.
The built-up and more rural parts of Macon-Bibb County will probably require separate taxing districts to fairly pay for differing levels of services, at least for a long time, Reichert said.
People need to contribute to the maintenance of the overall road network in the county, because all of us to some extent are served by the road network, he said. But it will take a long time to extend equal services everywhere, and areas that dont want more extensive services shouldnt have to have them, Reichert said.
Were not trying to change peoples lifestyles here. Were trying to accommodate them, he said.
Under the charter, Reichert will be eligible to run for one four-year term in 2016 after his initial three-year term is up. But first things first, he said.
I havent even begun to think about that. Right now were focused on the next six months, Reichert said.
Chances of success
Reichert said he is reaching out to talk to all nine new commissioners, hoping to build collaborative relationships.
Some are going to come with an idea of What can I do for my particular area? he said. And I think that is altogether fitting and appropriate when you have single-member districts. The challenge is going to be how you accommodate the needs and desires of nine districts but weave them into a common fabric for the community.
To pass most legislation the mayor must only count to five, lining up a majority of commissioners. But Reichert said he hopes to govern by consensus, through agreeing to help each other reach their respective goals.
Im not looking to marginalize any one member or members of the new commission, he said. Im hoping that we can pull together, because thats been my theme ever since 2007 when I first ran for mayor: Lets work together for a change.
Hutto, who began his City Council tenure four years before Reichert became mayor, is among the members who occasionally have accused Reichert of doing just the opposite: withholding news until the last minute, then expecting acquiescence after little or no time for discussion.
I hope he will be more inclusive of the new commission rather than autocratic and include them in information and decisions even when he is not required to do so by the new charter, Hutto said.
Reicherts demonstrated ability to draw plentiful campaign contributions -- he raised at least $426,000 for the mayoral race, more than five times Ellis total -- and big voter turnout should give him initial clout locally as well as in Atlanta, Beverly said.
I think hes going to be viewed fairly well, Beverly said. He had to have a cross section of support on both sides of the aisle, which ... sort of bodes well for his image at the state level.
Though the new government is officially nonpartisan, Reichert and six of the new commissioners are longtime Democrats; and many Republicans lined up behind Reichert as well, Beverly noted. That provides a tremendous opportunity for Reichert to leave an indelible stamp on the new government, he said.
I think he has what he needs, to do whats in his mind to do, Beverly said. Im looking forward to seeing what happens. Im cautiously optimistic.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.