On Friday night — the same day frustrations in the Macon Police Department led officers to vote overwhelmingly to form a union — the department held its annual awards banquet.
Of the 15 members on the Macon City Council, none showed up for the banquet.
Each council member gave The Telegraph a reason for missing the banquet. Two had funerals to attend. One had already planned a party of her own that night. Some had already RSVP’d for the Allman Brothers “Big House” museum opening party that night. Several said they didn’t know about it.
The council’s absence was noted as officers gathered for dinner and to recognize their officer of the year and give other awards for merit and heroic action.
“It was a big event to us,” Police Chief Mike Burns said.
Said Deputy Chief Mike Carswell: “I’m sure it matters (to the officers), but I didn’t hear a whole lot of comment about it.”
Still, it was clear the department’s rank and file noticed the absence, which The Telegraph’s Charles Richardson noted during his remarks at the dinner. Richardson asked any council members in attendance to stand and be recognized, and none did.
On Monday, an officer approached Councilwoman Lauren Benedict after a council committee meeting. Benedict’s committee had just shot down a push to hold back on cost of living increases for police department retirees, among others. This was something the officer had hoped the committee would do, but the officer didn’t open with that as she approached Benedict and shook her hand.
“We missed y’all,” the officer said.
Several council members said they wish they could have attended the banquet, but it’s a busy time of the year. Councilmen Ed DeFore and Virgil Watkins said they didn’t know about the invitation. Council President Miriam Paris said she was told she was invited, but it slipped her mind.
Burns said invitations were sent to City Hall on Nov. 12. Council members get a lot of mail, which often piles up in their in-boxes. Most council members said they got their invitations, and a few contacted the department with their regrets, Burns said.
Councilman Rick Hutto was a pallbearer and gave a eulogy at a friend’s funeral Friday afternoon, then spent time with the family that evening, he said. Councilman Lonnie Miley said he was at a basketball game with his grandchildren. Council members James Timley, Alveno Ross and Tom Ellington simply said they had previously made other plans.
Benedict had a party at her house, which is an annual affair scheduled before she received her banquet invite, she said. Councilman Larry Schlesinger, a rabbi at Temple Beth Israel, preached Friday night and also attended the Big House opening. Councilman Mike Cranford said he was working, though he appeared to be confused about the banquet’s start time.
Councilwoman Nancy White also attended the Big House event. Councilman Erick Erickson was in Washington, D.C., where he had been honored at an awards dinner Thursday night. Councilman Charles Jones’ brother died recently, and the funeral was Saturday, he said. Councilwoman Elaine Lucas was in Miami, visiting her sister’s family as her husband, state Rep. David Lucas, attended a conference for state legislators.
Watkins, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he was in the police department’s investigations division Monday and some of the detectives were giving him a hard time — jokingly — about missing the banquet.
“I’m not sure how I missed it,” Watkins said, adding that it was “kind of embarrassing.”
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.