Political notebook: The more things stay the same

December 13, 2013 

Even Macon City Councilman Henry Ficklin had to laugh at a discovery this week in an unearthed time capsule buried at the old Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School.

Among the items inside the capsule was the March 6, 1986, edition of The Macon Telegraph & News, which marked the date the capsule was buried and ran a story about the students putting it together.

On the page above that story, however, was a news item about Ficklin asking the council to pay his legal fees that arose from a libel lawsuit filed by seven Macon police officers against him after The Macon Courier published the names of those officers in a story that alleged different treatment of black and white officers within the department.

Though Ficklin eventually won a deferred verdict in the case, the council voted not to pay his legal fees.

Twenty-seven years later, Ficklin wants Councilman Larry Schlesinger to pay Ficklin’s legal fees in getting the results of the Macon-Bibb County District 2 Commission election overturned. Citing voting irregularities and errors by the Bibb County Board of Elections, it was Ficklin who filed a lawsuit disputing the results of October’s runoff in the race, which Schlesinger won by 26 votes. A new election date has been set for Jan. 14.

Ficklin noted Tuesday that one of his former students sent him a copy of the 1986 story, which gave him a chuckle.

Is there a smoke-filled room we can use?

Openness has been the hallmark thus far of efforts to consolidate Macon and Bibb County. The task force that’s working on the new government structure has held public meetings and indeed has broadcast its gatherings on the Internet at maconbibb.tv. But now that Macon-Bibb officials are preparing to take office at year’s end, a desire for secrecy is descending upon a few.

At a task force-sponsored briefing Wednesday for the new Macon-Bibb Commission, Mayor-elect Robert Reich­ert said he wanted to keep the government’s proposed organizational chart under wraps. To have copies floating around would only start rumors among city and county employees as to who will get the top staff jobs, he said. At the least, Reichert said, “DRAFT” should be splashed across the chart in big letters.

Commissioner-elect Al Tillman went a step further, suggesting that new commissioners themselves should hold a private meeting. Since they won’t be sworn in until Dec. 31, they aren’t yet a legal quorum of a government body and could skirt the state Open Meetings law, he noted.

But Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission which hosts task force meetings, spoke up to note that all consolidation business so far has been conducted in the open. And Commissioner-elect Scotty Shepherd made his preference clear: He wants to keep everything in plain view. No more was said about shutting out the public.

If you’d like a look at the proposed organization chart, it’s posted at macon.com.

The handwriting on the napkin

Though Macon-Bibb County Commissioner-elect Al Tillman told Macon Mayor Robert Reichert weeks ago he would be stepping down from the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, Tillman “formalized” the decision Thursday -- by writing a quick letter of resignation on a napkin he found at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

During a break of the Consolidation Task Force’s finance meeting for the newly elected officials, Tillman wrote the note out and left it in front of Reichert’s seat. When Reichert found the napkin, he looked surprised, then chuckled.

“That’s how they do it in Hollywood,” Tillman said with a laugh.

Since there are no more P&Z meetings until the beginning of next year, Tillman said he is stepping down now to give Reichert the opportunity to appoint someone to fill out Tillman’s two remaining years.

Coming together

The groups working to bring together Macon and Bibb County are wrapping up their work, because the two governments are indeed coming together Jan. 1. Commissioners continue to get briefed, while a consolidation task force is still working.

Upcoming events include the final planned meeting of the task force’s Laws Committee, at 5 p.m. Monday; a briefing of Macon-Bibb County commissioners-elect on ordinances at 9 a.m. Wednesday; the final planned meeting of the full transition task force at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday; and a work session of the Macon-Bibb County commissioners-elect from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. All those meetings will be held in the offices of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, 175 Emery Highway.

Also penciled in: an 11 a.m. Dec. 31 swearing-in, with a meeting to follow, of the Macon-Bibb County Commissioners in what will become the commission chambers at City Hall.

Road to reform

The Macon Area Transportation Study needs to revise its membership to accommodate the new Macon-Bibb County government.

The transportation planning organization has scheduled a meeting Tuesday to discuss bylaw changes for its membership. By changing how members are designated, the move would shift power.

The proposed change would give seats to the Macon-Bibb County mayor and three commissioners, as well as the chairmen of the Jones and Monroe county commissions. Positions would remain with leaders of Payne City, the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, the Macon Water Authority, Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority, Georgia Department of Transportation and the MATS Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Bibb County Engineering Annex, 760 Third St., Macon.

Writers Jim Gaines, Phillip Ramati and Mike Stucka contributed to this report.

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