City Hall work shows Macon-Bibb teamwork

Renovations ahead of Macon-Bibb swearing-in next week

jgaines@macon.comDecember 27, 2013 

As Macon city government is about to dissolve, cooperation is the watchword for city and Bibb County workers preparing for the new Macon-Bibb County government to move into City Hall.

About a dozen workers from the city’s Central Services Department and the county’s Buildings & Properties Department are together moving furniture, patching and painting walls, fixing lights and ceiling tiles, and rewiring the sound system in what has been the City Council chamber and offices.

“We have to be through in this area by the 31st,” said Neal Davis, project manager for Central Services, as a crew worked on the council chamber Friday. The spruced-up room will be needed for Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony for the first countywide mayor -- incumbent Macon Mayor Robert Reichert -- and nine commissioners.

Gene Simonds, director of Central Services, said the work was coordinated with Sam Kitchens, the county’s Facilities & Properties Department director.

“We’ve come together on this project, working together to not only make it work, but to meet the deadline,” Simonds said.

Across a hallway, council members have moved out while commissioners wait to move in.

Larry Schlesinger, president pro tempore of the Macon City Council, has occupied the pro tem’s office for just two years but accumulated quite a pile of now-superfluous paper.

“I’m kind of a pack rat by nature,” he said.

Still, it only took him about an hour to take down pictures and sort through documents, Schlesinger said. He wasn’t asked to clear out, but he knew it would be necessary.

“That seemed to be the order of the day,” Schlesinger said.

He still hopes to move back into one of the newly renovated offices; Schlesinger faces fellow Councilman Henry Ficklin in a Jan. 14 election for the still-disputed District 2 commission seat.

One of those who is assured office space is Gary Bechtel, now a Bibb County commissioner who will soon take the District 1 Macon-Bibb seat.

“We were told that behind council chambers there would be some space for us, and I’m anxious to see it,” he said Friday.

In the Bibb County Courthouse, county commissioners have had a conference room, mailboxes and a small staff to assist them, he said. Council offices offer a few more resources, though Bechtel expects to do most of his work from his personal office.

“We’ve been well taken care of, but this is probably going to be a little more structured than what we’ve had at the county,” Bechtel said.

Commissioners will choose their offices with help from the clerk, said Dale Walker, city interim chief administrative officer.

“We are trying to freshen up the offices and give them additional staffing to assist them in doing their jobs,” he said via email. That doesn’t mean more hiring, but county staff will move over to City Hall, including to a newly built service window next to commissioners’ offices, Walker said.

There’s no cost estimate for the ongoing work. It’s being done within the normal labor and maintenance budgets for the departments involved, he said.

In the main chamber, workers pulled out the old, dysfunctional microphone system used by 15 council members. It’s being replaced by a dozen mics, said Chris Floore, city Public Affairs director. There’s one for each commissioner, one for the mayor, one for a staff attorney and one for a clerk.

“We’ve got to do a lot more wiring and electric work in here, but that’s probably going to wait for the new fiscal year,” Floore said.

Some of the current work, however, aims to break down barriers between the mayor’s office and the commission side, promoting teamwork, he said. The city’s mayor-council structure was deliberately set up to be adversarial, but under the new government the mayor will preside at meetings and vote in case of a tie. Sam Henderson, currently executive assistant to the mayor, will move into a liaison office next to commissioners, Floore said. The former council conference room and mayor’s conference room will be used as small and large conference rooms, respectively; and Reichert wants to hold some committee meetings on what was formerly the mayor’s turf, Floore said.

When the Macon-Bibb budget allows, Walker said, the commission chamber will be further modernized for better sound and video, computerized presentations and media access. And there’ll be no future need to clear out mounds of old ordinances and budget books. Moving toward a paperless system, commissioners will get documents on tablets, he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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