These endorsements are the work of the Citizens Advisory Board and The Telegraph Editorial Board. Not all members of either board were present for all 29 interviews; however, only those members present for all the candidates in a district could vote for the endorsement. Those members involved in political campaigns did not participate in the interviews in those districts.
The Citizens Advisory Board, Charles Bass, Bob Berlin, Gigi Cabell, Bill Curry, Amy Elton, Mary Lou Ezell, Shawn Fritz, Philip Lengel, Leroy Mack, Jonathan Merrill, Don McGouirk, Giles O’Neal, Gene Strouss and Betty Toussaint. The Editorial Board, Don Bailey, publisher; Sherrie Marshall, executive editor; and Opinion Page Editor Charles E. Richardson.
District 7: Unlike the other district races, the District 7 contest has no incumbents running. Eric Arnold, Barry Bell and W.F. “Scotty” Shepherd have never held elected office, although Shepherd has twice run unsuccessfully for Bibb County sheriff. Shepherd has a number of fine qualities brought out by his law enforcement resume. He managed 300 people as a major in the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. He also served as a captain for 18 years, and after leaving the department worked five years as chief investigator in the Public Defender’s Office.
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Eric Arnold, 38, is the youngest member of this group of candidates. He is a computer programmer and would bring his particular skill set to bear on bringing the county’s computer capabilities into the 21st century. He thinks we should be able to digitize records instead of paying to store hard copies of them. While he has extensive ideas for the county’s technology needs, he understands that, due to budget constraints, fully implementing his plan may have to wait.
Barry Bell has a business background and is the owner and manager of Oakview Golf Course. He believes the county could save money and time by spraying weeds in the right of ways with a chemical rather than constantly cutting them. He would inspire teamwork by riding with each district representative around his or her district to understand the entire county picture. His district, he says, has two of the most accessible highway exits and plenty of land to build on. He would work with economic development to bring businesses to the area.
The candidates all have their pluses and minuses, Shepherd, by his own admission, has a temper problem: (“The older I get the more I lose my temper.” “Stupid people make me mad.” “My patience is terrible.” The commission is “going to need a hard-headed man like me.”) Bell needs to bone up on what the county government is responsible for. (It is not responsible for maintaining school grounds.) And he needs to read the entire consolidation bill so that he knows what the county can and cannot do.
Our choice is Eric Arnold. When we examine what the Bibb County team needs in its ranks, technology proficiency is near the top of the list simply for the reason that it will save money and time. Certainly, he won’t do the work, but he can help bring real-world technology solutions to the commission huddle.
District 8: This district pits two Macon City Council representatives and a newcomer against each another. Regina Davis is the newcomer. However, she has unsuccessfully run for seats on City Council and the Macon Water Authority. Charles Jones has represented Ward IV since 2000, and his most notable work has come as chairman of the Employee Development and Compensation Committee. Virgil Watkins Jr., not yet 30, is the youngest city councilman. He serves as chairman of the Public Safety Committee and vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Davis is a real estate broker who believes social media can be employed to attract tourists to the area. Davis thinks the 20 percent cut mandated by legislation will be hard to do, and that it’s up to leaders to attract new jobs in order to lighten the blow of a reduction in force. Unfortunately, Davis has not attended many commission meetings nor is she familiar with the legislation that created the consolidated government.
Watkins is full of energy. He would like to continue the effort to destroy dilapidated housing but admits the goal of tearing down 100 houses was missed. Unfortunately, 5,000 houses have been identified as being in decrepit condition. Watkins believes in the Promise Neighborhoods concept and has worked on bringing a robotics program to some Bibb County schools. He says he has the skills necessary to separate an argument’s issues from its emotions. Unfortunately, Watkins has been identified, rightly or wrongly, with siding more often with combative members of council.
Jones however, has been his own man. He is an outspoken advocate for public safety and has stood his ground on the Employee Development and Compensation Committee in the face of withering, though incoherent, criticism. He understands the challenges of merging law enforcement, particularly of creating a fair and equitable way to stabilize salaries. He would work to get the 136 churches he says are in the district more involved in the surrounding neighborhoods and the lives of youths there. Jones has a long record of taking crime fighting to the streets. He’s fair and mild-mannered. Our only concern is his health. Still, Charles Jones will fit in nicely as a member of the Macon-Bibb County team.
District 9: Al Tillman was the only candidate from his district to appear for an interview with the Citizens Advisory Board and the Editorial Board. His opponent, James Timley, was invited but did not respond. Tillman has come under fire for supporting consolidation, a measure opposed by a number of council members, including Timley. Many believe Councilman Henry Gibson was acting on behalf of Timley in his failed attempt to get Tillman disqualified by the Board of Elections.
Tillman has shown his ability to work with others through his tenure on the Planning & Zoning Commission, an appointment Timley opposed. Tillman has been instrumental, with his connections on the street, in getting wanted individuals to surrender peacefully to law enforcement. While supporting the police department, he has not been afraid to criticize it.
While president of the local chapter of the NAACP, Tillman brought a moribund organization back to the forefront of respectability. However, as president of council, Timley has been at the center of almost every council misstep from disagreements over police DUI enforcement to accepting grant money for infrastructure projects.
We support Al Tillman, There is no “I” in team and Tillman will fit into the team concept quite well.