Macon-Bibb leaders confer on collaboration

jgaines@macon.comJanuary 31, 2014 

ATHENS -- A strategic-planning retreat for Macon-Bibb County commissioners got off to an amiable start Friday afternoon.

Eight commissioners, Mayor Robert Reichert and a few senior staff members -- Commissioner Virgil Watkins hadn’t arrived -- engaged in team-building exercises with two facilitators from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

A general desire for cooperation and building a common vision for Macon-Bibb County’s future were the themes commission members sounded in the opening meetings at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Athens.

“You all are on the cusp of some great things,” said Mara Register of the institute. The institute staff hopes to help commissioners move toward common goals throughout 2014, she said.

Local elected officials have held such retreats before, but this is the first overall planning session for the newly created consolidated government.

Register and Gordon Maner, also from the Carl Vinson Institute, had Reichert, commissioners and staff split into several small groups -- rotating members often -- first breaking the ice with personal anecdotes, then getting into serious territory. They were asked what they needed from the others to successfully work together.

Maner said he and Register would compile the results Friday night, to be used in detailed policy meetings Saturday.

Many of the responses from elected officials and staff -- County Manager Dale Walker, Assistant to the County Manager Julie Moore and Public Affairs Director Chris Floore -- nearly matched.

All said they want honest, free-flowing communication, accurate information and respect for their individual views without fear of recrimination or backbiting.

Commissioners and staff alike said they want to work on issues important to the entire community, but that requires respecting each others’ areas of interest and expertise.

While all sides need to be prepared on issues, that doesn’t mean interfering or micromanaging, they said. That was of special concern to staff members.

“Board of commissioners, y’all stay out of operations, and they’ll stay out of politics,” Maner said.

In addition, Walker said sometimes officials need to accept that there aren’t enough resources for what they want done without cutting something else.

The group plans to meet all day Saturday, talking about details of the new government, working with constitutional officers, setting a half-dozen priorities and creating a 15-year vision. It will include review of the “One Macon!” study on how to improve education, employment and the community.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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