A pair of well-known Maconites -- a community organizer and a political veteran -- are vying for the District 9 seat on the new Macon-Bibb County Commission.
Community leaders, government, residents and law enforcement must build real trust and even business bonds among one other, said Al Tillman, founder Unity-N-Community, a group that offers education, training and leadership development programs for children and adults.
Meanwhile, Macon City Council President James Timley, who was first elected to City Council in 1999, said Macon and Bibb must do “triage” to curb crime, speak as one to potential investors and charge property owners the same taxes no matter where they live.
While they do all that, the Macon-Bibb marriage contract directs them to cut city and county spending by 20 percent in steps over five years.
“It’s going to be tough, but I think it can be attained,” Tillman said of the 20 percent cut. “What we’re going to have to do is attain it through attrition.”
And there will be savings, Tillman said, in combining city and county garbage pickup and trimming “non-essential items” like bills for official cell phones.
Timley said a 20-percent cut is “not realistic.”
Under Macon-Bibb’s charter, it will be up to the new consolidated government to decide whether it wants to set a different, possibly higher, tax rate inside the bounds of the current Macon versus the current unincorporated Bibb.
Timley is against a higher Macon rate, calling it “unfair” and a burden on city taxpayers.
Instead, “you create a budget ... that will encompass everything that has to be done in government,” come up with a sum and divide it among property owners, “and then have everybody pay the same millage rate,” Timley said.
But no matter the millage rate, crime and blight drag down property values and communities.
Tillman said he wants to mend what he called a “perception problem” that many young people have with law enforcement.
“The police have got to create what I call ‘Mr. Friendly,’’’ Tillman said, starting with a tactic the U.S. used in Iraq and Afghanistan: giving candy to children.
Said Tillman: “All of a sudden, Mr. Police Officer does not appear to be that person that Mom or Dad talks so bad about that you should be afraid of.“
And Macon needs to dump the model of police alone investigating complaints about the force, Tillman said.
“Internal Affairs (has) not worked,” he said. “We need to get a citizens review board.”
Timley said he wants to see “a very diligent attack on going in and patrolling these neighborhoods where you have open-air drug markets.”
Drug sales and drug use create a lot of trouble in the city, he said.
“When people get hooked on drugs, they’re going to steal, they’re going to fight, they’re not working,” Timley said.
Timley said he thinks the sheriff will prioritize drug-related crime.
New rules than ban metal recyclers from buying metal from unknown people have helped cut down on ransacking houses, Timley said. But some recyclers are still buying, and law enforcement should shut that down, he said.
As for economics, “Macon-Bibb has to be a little more friendly as far as entrepreneurship,” Tillman said. Some rules on the smallest businesses, such as fruit stands, barber shops and car detailers, make it hard on the would-be self-employed.
“You have to follow the law, but we’ve got to have an alternative and be creative,” Tillman said.
Self-employment is one option for people who have spotty credit or criminal histories. Another way, Tillman said, would be to help skilled young people who have “made a mistake” to meet potential employers who are coming through the courthouse anyway.
“We want to be able to offer a second chance through contractors, business people and developers,” Tillman said.
Timley said there already are people paid to woo businesses to set up in Macon and Bibb, but they’re “protected fiefdoms.”
It’s hard to know whom to call for information about locating a business here, he said. There’s the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, the Macon Economic Development Commission as well as other, smaller groups.
“Them being fractured like that, they’re stepping all over each other,” Timley said.
He said if Macon and Bibb are going to be consolidated, economic development needs to talk with one voice, too.
Tillman has been at the center of an effort by City Councilman Henry Gibson to strike his name from the ballot. Gibson, who is not running for a seat on the new commission, contends that Tillman isn’t a proper resident of District 9 because he owns a residence in District 8. Tillman, however, offered proof to the Bibb County Board of Elections of his proper residence, and the board this week ruled in his favor.
The election is scheduled Sept. 17.