Macon and Bibb County leaders traded harsh personal attacks Monday night in front of 45 people attending a forum on a July 20 sales tax referendum.
Officials on each side of the SPLOST vote suggested the other was trying to harm their own constituents.
Macon City Councilman Mike Cranford said the city’s failing emergency radio system is now more than a decade old, and the county is only pretending to be interested now because it would be replaced if a special purpose local option sales tax passes. Many city leaders, including Mayor Robert Reichert, oppose the SPLOST, which is heavily endorsed by the county.
“It is the politics of deceit, and it is the politics of fear,” Cranford said.
But Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said city leaders kept trying to delay fixes while the city crumbled. He asked for a single thing that Mayor Robert Reichert has done to benefit the city, then accused the mayor of ignoring the city’s needs or abandoning those needs in an attempt to force the city and county to merge.
“The interests of the city are being neglected, and the result is the city is going down, down, down, perhaps to pursue some Machiavellian scheme to force the issue on consolidation, and to what end?” Edwards said. “This community deserves better.”
Reichert stayed quiet for minutes, then returned to quote Isaiah 1:18 — “Come now, let us reason together” — to Edwards, a Yale-educated minister.
“Now that I’ve regained my composure, I think this is not the time for inflammatory rhetoric,” Reichert said. “I think this is the time we come together for reason.”
It wasn’t clear from Monday’s meeting at New Griswoldville Baptist Church how many in the audience hadn’t yet made up their minds about the SPLOST, which would raise $183 million over six years. Among the projects it would pay for are a new courthouse, renovation of the current courthouse, a new Juvenile Court building, storm drainage and recreation.
Macon business owner and resident Amy Tarpley wanted to know how pro-SPLOST advocates could promise hundreds of local jobs. Other construction projects such as the Macon Marriott City Center were done by people from out of town, she said.
State Rep. David Lucas, a hired consultant who is advocating in favor of the SPLOST, told her there weren’t any guarantees. He said a new courthouse and parking deck would probably be too big of a project for any Macon contractors to take on.
Lucas said many of the smaller jobs would be handled by local people: “You’re talking about bricklayers, plumbers. You’re talking about electricity.”
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said in an opening statement that SPLOST construction would put at least 500 people back to work, needed in a community with unemployment over 10 percent.
But Reichert said he’d cast an early vote in the election against the SPLOST because the city and county haven’t agreed on how to share services.
“Residents of Macon can no longer go on paying double taxes for single services,” Reichert said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.