Macon City Council chose leaders for six standing committees Monday, prompting furious accusations from Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who found herself and several allies frozen out of leadership positions.
Five of the committees kept the same chairpersons as before; Appropriations, perhaps the most powerful, had to change because former Chairman Mike Cranford was replaced on council.
The fracas started with Appropriations, the first election to be held. Council Clerk Joyce Humphrey presided and opened nominations.
Lucas nominated Councilman Henry Ficklin, who seconded himself.
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Councilman Virgil Watkins nominated Councilman Tom Ellington, and new Councilwoman Beverly K. Olson seconded that.
Lucas delivered a long speech praising Ficklin’s experience, as a councilman for 30 years and former chairman of Appropriations.
“There is no one else more qualified to lead this committee than the Rev. Dr. Henry Ficklin,” she said. Voting for another “spits in the face” of constituents, Lucas said. She suggested that Ellington’s nomination was the result of illegal “backroom shenanigans,” a reference to accusations against councilmen Charles Jones and Larry Schlesinger that they colluded illegally to rig assignments to council committees.
“I know that there’ll be another committee following this one where I will make the same speech, but the name will just change,” Lucas said.
Olson said she backed Ellington, who was just elected to a second term, because he’s just finished a stint as Appropriations vice chairman.
Ellington won the chairmanship by a 3-2 vote, with support from Olson and Watkins.
“For those who did not support me, I will work to earn your confidence,” Ellington said as he took the chair.
Lucas then nominated Ficklin for vice chairman, but got no second; and Olson’s nomination of Watkins for the job was approved by the same 3-2 vote.
Councilwoman Lauren Benedict won a second stint as chairwoman of the Community Resources and Development Committee, but her nomination by Jones and Schlesinger drew immediate sneers from Lucas.
“Here I knew that the committee had been stacked already. It was stacked in the illegal meeting,” Lucas said.
She said she wanted the job for herself, having been both chairwoman and vice chairwoman before. The committee got many things done while she was in charge, Lucas said.
“We had things on the move. However, that has not been the case these last four years,” she said. Returning Benedict to the chair belied claims that others sought “new blood” in charge, Lucas said. She cast the only vote against Benedict.
Jones’ election as vice chairman passed by the same 4-1 margin, drawing another diatribe from Lucas about illegal plotting.
Immediately afterward Jones retained the chairmanship of Employee Development and Compensation, nominated by Schlesinger and seconded by Councilwoman Nancy White. The only negative vote came from new Councilman Henry Gibson.
White then nominated Benedict for vice chairwoman, which was approved unanimously.
Councilman Rick Hutto is the new chairman of the Public Properties Committee, nominated by Councilman Ed DeFore. Hutto has done a great job on that committee for two and a half years, DeFore said.
“I think he’s entitled to it,” he said.
Hutto’s election was quick and unanimous, as was the choice of Councilman Frank Tompkins for vice chairman.
Watkins retained chairmanship of the Public Safety Committee by a unanimous vote. There was brief dispute about the vice-chairmanship: Schlesinger nominated White, but Tompkins nominated Gibson.
Lucas and DeFore, though neither are members of the committee, both weighed in to support Gibson; he’s a retired Macon Police captain and is thus the most knowledgeable and best-qualified candidate, they said.
Gibson won after White drew support from only Schlesinger and herself.
Finally, DeFore nominated Councilman Lonnie Miley to serve another term as chairman of Public Works and Engineering -- or tried to. Ficklin raised his hand and said he’d spoken first, to make the same nomination.
Miley won unanimously. Then DeFore got his turn.
“I’d like to nominate Mr. Ficklin for vice chair,” DeFore said. Hutto seconded that, and Ficklin too was unanimously approved.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.