A Macon-Bibb County commissioner is pushing for drug tests for elected and appointed public officials, but some commissioners are wary about how the proposal would be implemented.
Commissioner Joe Allen plans to introduce a resolution asking for elected and public officials to submit to voluntary drug tests and release the results to residents. The veteran politician said it would be a way to hold those in leadership positions accountable.
But several commissioners said they have concerns about some of the people who would be asked to volunteer for the tests, especially those whom commissioners appoint to various unpaid boards.
The resolution would cover Macon-Bibb County commissioners, other elected officials and appointed positions such as county and assistant county managers, and other department heads. People appointed to various boards, such as the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission, would also be asked to participate.
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The resolution says it would cover illegal controlled substances. The measure is expected to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s commission committee meetings.
“Right now you read about what’s going on in the media in different communities where public officials are doing drugs,” Allen said. “Why don’t we as commissioners stand up and do what’s right?”
Allen said that if someone fails a test, he’s not advocating that they must lose their position. Instead, he wants them to get treatment.
“We should expect ourselves to do the same thing we expect from our employees — to be clean,” he said. “I’d rather do this now and if someone fails they get help instead of finding out later after something (serious) happens.”
Commissioner Al Tillman said the resolution appears to be a bit of grandstanding by Allen, who returned to the County Commission in January. Allen previously served on the former Bibb County Commission from 1989-2000 and again from 2005-2013.
“Joe Allen needs to realize this a new, consolidated government. All those old shenanigans under the old county system is over,” Tillman said.
He added about the resolution, “I don’t know how that’ll improve Macon-Bibb County or make people’s lives better, but I’ll be the first one to step up to take the test if (Allen’s) going to pay for it.”
With all the needs across the county, Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said it doesn’t appear that paying for additional drug tests is fiscally prudent.
“Where is it going to end is my question?” he said. “I really don’t see the sense of it. I just question the need and spending taxpayer money to do it.”
Allen estimates about 80 people would fall under the resolution and that each drug test would cost about $33. That would come out to about $2,600 if everyone volunteered to take a test.
Macon-Bibb County employees each have to take a drug test when they’re hired, and they are subject to random testing as long as they work for the county. Also, anyone who drives Macon-Bibb vehicles, including public officials, are tested for illegal substances.
“Every employee in the pool is to be randomly tested, and there’s an additional level of caution for drivers, ... for people who operate machinery and equipment,” Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.
Tillman said he’s against asking people who are appointed to voluntary boards to submit to the testing.
“Those folks don’t work for us or get paid. Those are volunteers,” he said. “If (Allen) knows about someone personally involved in doing drugs or illegal activities, he needs to share it with the commission in a private, executive session and let us deal with.”
Commissioner Elaine Lucas said she supports Allen’s effort to test public officials, but she said she also understands why there could be questions about why he wants it done.
Lucas said the issue of drug testing for elected officials has come up in the past, but that was usually during heated campaigns when one candidate accused another of using certain substances.
“It’s not something I would introduce, but it’s something that I will support because I don’t see a problem with it,” she said. “If someone else feels it’s that important that we make that statement, then certainly I would support that.”
Commissioner Virgil Watkins said he wanted time to examine Allen’s proposal before deciding how he would vote. Some further explanations about who would fall under the voluntary testing are needed.
“Technically, (county commissioners) are part-time county employes, and us being part of the mix isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Watkins said.
People appointed to boards already submit to a background check before serving, he said.
Allen said he’s unsure if the resolution will get enough support to pass. He reasons that it’s not necessarily because of fear of someone failing, but officials not wanting to stick their noses into other people’s businesses.
The proposal wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, Allen said.
“This has been on my mind before even coming back, and now is the time to do it,” he said.