Macon-Bibb County Commission retreat focuses on vision, mission

jgaines@macon.comMay 17, 2014 

Macon-Bibb County commissioners hammered out vision and mission statements for the 4 1/2 month old consolidated government during a seven-hour retreat Saturday.

Working with two facilitators from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, seven commissioners and Mayor Robert Reichert split into groups, then merged their ideas to produce the following vision: “Macon-Bibb will be the center of development, culture and opportunity, remembering our past while inspiring hope and pride for our future.”

Commissioners Larry Schlesinger and Al Tillman were absent. Commissioners Ed DeFore and Elaine Lucas left shortly after midday.

The vision statement is what they’d like to see the area become, facilitator Gordon Maner said. Then they did the same to produce a mission statement, which Maner described as defining the government’s tasks and reason for existence.

“Macon-Bibb County provides the essential infrastructure, services and programs, creating a vibrant economic and cultural climate, enabling individuals, families, and businesses to prosper,” the resulting mission statement says.

Saturday’s gathering was the second of four planning workshops commissioners intend to hold with institute personnel. The next is scheduled for Aug. 9

The retreats are funded by a grant from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation. The first session was held in Athens at the end of January.

At the January meeting, newly installed commissioners all said they wanted to communicate better and respect each other, even when they disagree.

Facilitator Mara Register asked how that was going.

“We need some work,” Commissioner Scotty Shepherd replied. Commissioners are still sometimes given information only shortly before they’re asked to vote on items, he said. If presented with another big surprise, regardless of whether he may ultimately favor it, Shepherd said he’ll vote against the item until he’s had a chance to study it.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas said commissioners have worked hard to be mutually civil, and that she’d repeatedly restrained herself -- or made comments “in a cute, motherly way.”

Reichert said he tries to include commissioners equally in discussions of upcoming matters, and only brings items up for a rush vote when the need for commission approval suddenly crops up. Still, he allowed that there will be “two or three things” placed on Tuesday’s commission agenda seeking immediate approval.

Nevertheless, Register said she’s “absolutely amazed” at how much commissioners have accomplished in their first few months.

In January, Reichert asked for all calls from commissioners to various departments to be routed through County Manager Dale Walker. Shepherd said Saturday that the general public doesn’t understand that constraint, and still call commissioners seeking immediate action on service requests.

Shepherd said people don’t realize mayor’s power, and that commissioners aren’t supposed to give orders directly. “Twenty, 30 calls a week, am I underestimating that?” he asked. Yet he doesn’t want to constantly bother Walker or Reichert with minor matters, so a loosening of that restriction would help, Shepherd said.

As she has several times before, Lucas blamed the media for commissioners’ public images, and complained that she gets less coverage than Reichert. Reporters often hear of government actions before she does, she said.

As government spokesman Chris Floore ran down a list of ongoing priorities, one cropped up that immediately drew Lucas’ opposition: transferring the Terminal Station to ownership by the Macon Transit Authority. She noted that the former Macon City Council had voted that idea down, and wondered if Reichert plans to try every previously failed plan on the new commission.

Reichert confirmed that the Terminal Station transfer, at least, he does intend to try again.

Commissioners have just begun considering Reichert’s $158.7 million annual budget proposal, which calls for eliminating funding to several museums along with other cuts in order to match lower tax revenue. Commissioner Gary Bechtel, chairman of the Operations & Finance Committee, said he’s satisfied with “75 to 80 percent” of the budget as proposed, and doesn’t plan to conduct hearings as detailed as the former city council did.

“I don’t envision going line by line through every department,” he said.

Elimination of funding to the Tubman African American Museum and the Museum of Arts & Sciences is “the elephant in the room” though those entities have been told for years to prepare for eventual loss of funding. Commissioner Virgil Watkins said the cut to the Tubman is his particular concern.

After lunch and the departure of DeFore and Lucas, Maner had commissioners repeat an exercise from January of writing down their ideas to reach five goals.

Under community and economic development, the list that emerged included better education, attracting skilled jobs, completion of many existing projects, and general infrastructure repairs and beautification.

To make the community safer, better education was also cited, along with greater trust of police, more recreation opportunities and a continued campaign against blighted neighborhoods.

To demonstrate government effectiveness, the group urged equalization of taxes in the former city and county, finishing existing projects and equalizing pay for former city and county employees, especially in law enforcement.

For general infrastructure, road work and the water system were on top, followed by establishment of a fiber-optic network; and Reichert put in another pitch for a light-rail transit system.

Under general quality of life, commissioners urged boosting new arts and recreation while supporting existing attractions, increasing green space, and living up to the AARP’s designation of Macon-Bibb as an “age-friendly community.”

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