Of the four candidates vying for the District 6 seat in the consolidated Macon-Bibb County government, three are political novices and one has spent more than four decades on the Macon City Council.
City Councilman Ed DeFore, 81, was elected in 1971. The retired machinist said his extensive political experience makes him the best candidate.
“I have more experience than anyone has running for any of these offices,” he said. “I have learned a lot of good about government to represent the people in the city of Macon.” DeFore also had a stint on the Bibb County school board.
Chhor Chav, 36, is the youngest candidate in the District 6 race and says he thinks it’s time for new blood.
“This race needs someone that’s fresh,” said Chav, a southern California native and Robins Air Force Base mechanic. “I want people to realize that this consolidation is a fresh start. I’m a young person with fresh ideas.”
Robert Abbott, 65, joined the race because, he said, “I’ve always been told you can’t score points as a spectator, you have to get in the game.” Abbott, an AT&T retiree, agrees with Chav that the new government will need new faces. “If you put the same old guard in, you’re going to get the same result,” he said.
Adah Roberts, 62, spent several years as Macon’s finance director and held that same post in Jacksonville, Fla. She said her experience creating government budgets and working closely with elected officials sets her apart from her opponents.
“The budget was my responsibility ... I was intricately involved,” she said. “Hearing about all the programs from the department heads ... that will give me an advantage over my opponents.”
District 6 is west of Interstate 475 and includes Thomaston Road, Mercer University Drive, portions of Hartley Bridge and Bethel Church roads and all of Lizella and Lake Tobesofkee.
Whoever is elected, budgeting matters will certainly be top of mind as the newly elected officials grapple with a mandated 20 percent reduction in government spending over five years.
All four candidates believe that goal is doable and say much of the savings will occur with a reduction in the consolidated government’s workforce.
Roberts said some positions in the consolidated government would have to be cut. “With consolidation, there’s going to be duplication of services. The difficulty, she said, is when “you have someone with the city with a lot of years and someone at the county with a lot of years. Who do you cut back?”
Abbott said reducing the size of government is going to take a strong board that will not shy away from hard choices. “There may be some overlap (in the consolidated government), so that first year there will be the biggest savings ... but it’s up to the people elected to make the tough decisions.”
Chav said, “The whole reason for consolidation was to save Macon and Bibb County money. There’s going to be a reduction in workforce. It’s always sad, but some people will have to be let go.”
Talking about the 20 percent reduction, DeFore said, “We can do that by attrition. A lot of people who have been around 32 years or more are going to retire ... human resources will have to see if (the positions) are fully needed or not.”
All of the District 6 candidates agree that Bibb County Sheriff David Davis has a tough job, but they differ on how to help reduce the area’s crime.
To help battle crime, DeFore suggested that Davis deploy unmarked cars with hidden cameras in the city’s most troubled areas.
“We need to get some surveillance cars,” he said, “and drive down through crime infested areas and take pictures of people involved ... they would catch a lot of these people.”
Chav said law enforcement should be more visible in neighborhoods before crimes occur.
“The biggest challenge is that most people don’t look at the (Sheriff’s Office) and police as people who care,” he said. “The only time they show up is to arrest people. ... It means a lot when a police officer goes out to just talk.”
To combat the area’s crime, Abbott says he believes community groups and youth programs could help.
“We as a commission need to be more involved with the prevention side, rather than the law enforcement side. ... Private organizations and other groups can assist,” he said.
Roberts said she’s happy with the job Davis is doing, particularly his email list that goes out to the community.
“I’m pleased to see the (email) alerts and they’re making arrests,” she said. Roberts also said more activities for youth would help reduce crime. “You got to get these young people involved in productive activity.”
Enticing new business is critical to the future success of Bibb County, the candidates say. But some say there are hurdles.
“Everybody says they want to bring in more business, but we have to find out why businesses aren’t coming,” said Roberts, adding that she has heard from many people about the difficulties of establishing new businesses here.
“The stops you have to make, the hoops you have to jump through,” she said, adding that there needs to be a “one stop” place for businesses to get licenses and permits.
Abbott said Bibb County could lure more business by decreasing property taxes. “Property taxes is higher here than a lot of areas,” he said. “We have (large) businesses that are given tax abatements for 10, 15 years ... the smaller businesses are not seeing any benefits from that.”
Potential businesses have an unfavorable image of the area, said Chav. “Companies go by what they see, and the perception of the city is a city that cannot work together,” he added.
As a member of the Macon Water Authority, DeFore said he works closely with the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority and he has been part of many successes bringing new businesses to Bibb County.
“We will continue to work with the industrial authority and chamber of commerce to increase business,” he said.
To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.