Mayor Robert Reichert, two new members of Macon City Council and 13 returning members took their oaths of office Tuesday evening, with the mayor and council alike making cautious pleas for cooperation over the next four years.
In the same gathering, the council re-elected the men who have led it for the last six months. Council President James Timley retained his position unopposed, but Councilman Larry Schlesinger faced a rematch of the June 21 vote in which he beat Councilman Rick Hutto to become president pro tempore.
In the June vote, held after President Miriam Paris stepped down to run successfully for the Georgia Senate, Hutto received seven votes. This time, also, seven opposed Schlesinger, meaning that he remained president pro tempore by just one vote.
A packed crowd in the council chamber watched the inaugural ceremony, with Clerk of Council Joyce Humphrey presiding. The Macon-Bibb County Fire Department color guard marched down the center aisle with the U.S. and Georgia flags, then halted while Macon native Erica-Christina Little, Miss Black Georgia USA 2011, sang the national anthem.
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The Rev. Marcus Tripp of Vineville United Methodist Church gave the invocation, then Bibb Superior Court Judge Martha Christian called on Reichert to be sworn into office.
With his wife, Dele, by his side, he took the oath and signed it, then thanked his family for their support.
“My mother and father, age 97 and 96, have taken a keen interest in this campaign as well as the previous one,” Reichert said.
He ran four years ago on a platform of moving beyond divisiveness, but in his first term the city struggled with a nationwide recession. Yet Macon made “significant progress” toward financial stability and revitalization nonetheless, he said.
“We have done so by working together, and only by working together will we be able to capitalize on the opportunities now before us,” Reichert said.
While there will be dissent, he said he’s committed to cooperation and compromise to achieve progress.
“This is not the time for a mayor versus council atmosphere,” Reichert said.
Council members then stood one by one as Humphrey named them, and Christian swore them in as a group. All 15, including newcomers Henry Gibson and Beverly K. Olson, said “I do” in unison, then came forward individually to sign the oath. Councilman Frank Tompkins detoured on the way back to greet all 15 people in the audience’s front row, even leaning into the second row to shake hands with interim city Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker.
Following the council’s oath, Humphrey opened nominations for council president. Councilman Henry Ficklin nominated Timley. Councilman Ed DeFore seconded the nomination before asking to speak.
DeFore said Timley has done an “outstanding job” and assured him of his support, but he said he thinks Timley should meet privately with Reichert several times a month to discuss upcoming issues.
“We do have a division down here, no doubt about it,” DeFore said. Still, relations are much better than when he joined the council 40 years ago, he said.
“I feel like the mayor and president of council can lead us, and that’s what I wanted to say,” DeFore said.
Following the unanimous vote, Timley took the chair as all other council members stood to applaud him. Reichert, in the audience, also stood to clap.
Timley thanked members for their confidence, and said he has tried to be “objective and even-handed.” He challenged council members to put aside divisions and the urgings of “special interests.”
“It’s sad that we have been categorized nationally as one of the poorest cities in America, the seventh poorest in the U.S.,” Timley said.
He seconded Reichert’s call for cohesiveness to overcome those problems.
In the subsequent vote for president pro tem, council members Olson, Nancy White, Lauren Benedict, Virgil Watkins, Charles Jones, Tom Ellington, DeFore and Schlesinger himself all backed Schlesinger.
“Rabbi Schlesinger has been elected president pro tem,” Timley said.
Schlesinger thanked God, his supporters and Macon voters, and said he would “extend my hand” to the others.
“I want you to know I respect each and every member of this council,” he said.
Finally, the council chose Jones to serve with Timley and Schlesinger on the council’s Committee on Committees. There were two separate votes for the third representative. In the first one, Ficklin got seven votes, but some of those, including Ficklin himself, switched to Jones on the next roll call. Only Timley voted against Jones on the final ballot.
The Rev. Ronald Terry of New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church gave the closing prayer and called for applause for judge Christian, who’s retiring from the bench at the end of this month.
Following the meeting, the crowd moved across Poplar Street to the Armory Ballroom for a reception.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.