OEDEL: Environment of distrust

June 22, 2014 

As former Bibb school Superintendent Romain Dallemand proved, Macon can be victimized by miraculous visions and sloganeering-style promises. The latest local catchphrase is the One Macon moniker under which an Atlanta consulting/marketing firm, Market Street Services, issued a glossy critique and numerous predictable “strategies” for Macon-Bibb County’s civic improvement.

The implementation strategies sounded like a laundry list of pet projects that some locals would like to get publicly funded because they can’t get them to survive on their merits.

One Macon tri-chairman Cliffard Whitby of Promise Center fame, a close associate of Dallemand and the lucky recipient of a lucrative contract to help rehab Anthony Road’s Promise Center, lauded the One Macon name. “One Macon, just in the name, symbolizes so much,” he told The Telegraph. “We are finally recognizing that we must work together to make this a better place for every constituency, every political group, every social group, every economic group.”

Whitby seems content to convey through the One Macon name his remarkable personal experience. If only every constituency in Macon could get the chance to create a specialized nonprofit, have it buy a publicly owned property for $220,000, release half of it back to the selling public entity for $5.75 million for 10 years, get a public bond offering to pay a cool million in rehab costs to your personal construction firm, and then try to flip the property back to the public for something like $7 million.

And hey, if every single Macon organization and resident could get deals like that, Macon would be transformed into a Midas-worthy mecca rivaling those elite enclaves of the Saudi oil sheiks and the Chinese princelings. To heck with EBT cards, Section 8 payments, disability checks and drug money. So chump change.

But we also shouldn’t let Whitby’s unfortunate role in One Macon undermine several trenchant insights conveyed in the Market Street Services report. The consultants were listening, after all.

The Market Street consultants couched their observations as “stories,” but their narrative rings true. Market Street’s observers said first and foremost that Macon is afflicted by an “environment of distrust” in its leadership, though they didn’t specifically mention Cliffard Whitby or Mayor Robert Reichert.

Market Street’s consultants next warned about “outmigration” from Macon, an issue I partly detailed in my column last week. The consultants then noted Macon’s “troubled” public education system, which might more fairly have been described as a disaster of nationally remarkable proportion.

The Market Street consultants went on to report about Macon’s failure to retain its college graduates, Macon’s “surge” in poverty, Macon’s “poor health outcomes” despite its massive medical infrastructure, Macon’s “concerns about crime” (something I’ve also detailed in prior columns), and a statistically remarkable lack of citizen attachment to Macon as a community.

The One Macon name for this initiative is unfortunate on a number of levels that have nothing to do with Whitby.

Of course, Macon isn’t unified as one, except insofar as city and county consolidation occurred Jan. 1 -- something that was itself close to a miracle.

In fact, we have more than one Macon, with segments often working at cross-purposes, black and white, connected and disconnected, rich and poor. There are also plenty of groups in Macon that we routinely don’t count -- “others” prominently including Indian-Americans and Latinos, as Moises Velez smartly observed in his June 5 op-ed.

Crony capitalism and entrenched, crusty, aristocratic leadership aren’t just Washington ailments. They are diseases at the local level, too. The Market Street people from Atlanta made a quick and largely accurate diagnosis. Now it’s time to call in the specialists.

I’m referring to the residents of Macon. Forget about taking back the country. Let’s try governing ourselves better, locally. There are many intriguing, if undercover, ideas for civic improvement that I’ll be detailing in coming weeks.

David Oedel teaches at Mercer University law school.

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