The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission held a forum Monday night to discuss two of the biggest issues facing Bibb County residents -- consolidation of the county and the city of Macon, and Bibb County school Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s strategic plan to improve the school system.
About 30 people attended Monday’s forum at the Douglass Theatre to hear a discussion on both topics which featured state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon; former state Rep. David Lucas; City Councilman Henry Ficklin; educator Kim Carter; and community activist George Muhammad. Bibb County school board member Wanda West replaced Beverly for the discussion of the strategic plan.
Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis moderated the forum on both topics. Before the forum started, Ellis said discussion on the two topics was a bit problematic, because the consolidation plan hasn’t been finalized among legislators and the school system plan is still in the community-discussion phase.
Still, Ellis said, it’s important to begin the discussion in the community.
“Both of these (topics) are so important,” he said. “There’s a sense of urgency. Obviously, education is the most important thing. Everything else pales if we can’t get that right.”
Beverly spoke of the efforts of the Bibb County delegation, which is working to try to finalize a consolidation plan that can be presented to the Legislature. Assuming lawmakers pass it, the plan would then be presented to city and county voters for approval. Beverly said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss many of the details of the plan while the delegation is still hashing out details.
Lucas said that made it difficult to discuss.
“It’s hard to talk about consolidation when there’s no bill to read,” he said, noting that the only details he has heard about the plan come from rumor and hearsay.
Carter and Ficklin both criticized the plan, saying it won’t save local residents money and that residents will have less representation in their local government.
Carter pointed to the small number of consolidated governments nationwide -- about 1 percent -- and said many cities with consolidated governments are among the poorest in the nation.
Ficklin said he’s long been opposed to a government merger and said the current effort isn’t something the general community has demanded.
“I think this is a forced conversation, other than from some of the powers-that-be that say we need it,” he said. “It only becomes a question in the South when the number of African-Americans becomes threatening to the people in power.”
Ellis pointed out some potential positives for a consolidated city and county, including being able to get franchise fees from county residents (city residents already pay them) as well as federal Community Development Block Grant money by having a city population over 100,000. Beverly said something needed to be done for city residents, who currently pay taxes to Macon and Bibb County, but don’t get benefits from the county for those taxes.
The education discussion started later in the evening.
West told those in attendance that the new strategic plan is very comprehensive and said that there needs to be conversations in the community about it.
“The community should have input,” she said. “We have to do something different.”