Local legislators are determined to get a referendum on Macon-Bibb County consolidation before voters -- with fewer roadblocks and some expert insight to help them.
The local legislative delegation decided Wednesday to start from scratch on a consolidation bill, removing a fight over nonpartisan elections to cut down on another obstacle. Legislative delegation Chairwoman Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said legislators are united in wanting voters to consider consolidation and “put it to rest one way or the other.”
Changes in the delegation -- including the replacement of Rep. David Lucas with James Beverly, and of longtime Sen. Robert Brown with Miriam Paris -- also could help, said Rep. Allen Peake, a Republican who has drafted consolidation bills.
“I think we’ve got a unique opportunity, with the new folks, you and Miriam, to really get some good stuff done for Bibb County,” Peake told Beverly on Wednesday. “Stuff that has been bottled up for a long, long time, and we’ve got this session to do it, because things could change, some of us could get beat next summer. We’ve got a good, unique opportunity to get stuff accomplished, and people are expecting it.”
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Peake said older consolidation bills should be thrown out because there had been so much polarizing discussion about them.
Starting over also means a number of critical details haven’t been set on paper. Among them: Should Bibb County’s top cop be elected or appointed, and how many representatives are needed for the new government?
Randall said legislators will have to work out a timeline for consolidation, including when voters actually would consider the referendum.
Those questions could be settled with help of a pile of advice.
Legislators are planning a series of about four public meetings to get ideas about consolidation from Bibb County residents in the next few months. NewTown Macon has commissioned a study from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to see what has worked and what hasn’t in consolidation efforts elsewhere. And Beverly said he plans to get advice from professors and students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Randall said she wants a piece of legislation that everyone in the delegation will support.
“Local legislation should be as united front as possible,” she said during Wednesday’s meeting at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Peake said he will introduce separate legislation that would create nonpartisan elections for Macon and Bibb County. The issue of nonpartisan elections in a consolidation bill was one of the stumbling blocks in earlier General Assembly sessions. Eight Bibb County elected officials are asking that their offices -- including sheriff, coroner and district attorney -- be decided in nonpartisan elections.
Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, who is backing a bill to make Jones County school board races nonpartisan, suggested the Bibb County school board also should get nonpartisan races.
The idea of broadening the list of officials who could be chosen in nonpartisan elections led Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, to suggest the legislative delegation could have a tough time hammering out details of the legislation in private.
“You might need a padded room for that retreat, Nikki,” Epps quipped.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.