Now that we’ve done it, why did we do it? Macon and Bibb County came together for the first time in 191 years. Why did we do it?
In a little more than a month, we’ll become the fourth largest city in Georgia, with 155,369 residents and just one central government, one law enforcement agency, one fire department, one engineering department, etc. All the “double-agencies” will morph into one.
Will we save money? Probably not. When Jacksonville and Duval County consolidated in 1968, their costs increased. In fact, of the 33 consolidations in the United States (we’re No. 34) very few have reported savings. Athens/Clarke is one of the few and that’s encouraging. But maybe this is why 89,000 communities remain unconsolidated.
No, cost-savings is not the primary reason for consolidation. Then why consolidate?
Several of the 33 report that it was a grab for power; a political ploy to empower a group of greedy community leaders. Obviously, this was not the case with us. We voted for every one of our consolidated officers. No, it was something else.
I think Sam Hart and Robert Reichert were right. Sam said: “Think Community” and Robert said: “Let’s move beyond the ‘us’ verses ‘them’ mentality that’s been holding us back.” That’s the reason. It’s not the cost savings; it’s not even the added efficiency; and it’s not a power-grab.
It is a chance for unity; an opportunity to climb out of our silos: black versus white, north versus south, rich versus poor, Macon versus Bibb. Remember that famous statement: “United we stand; divided we fall?” We were falling fast. And failing, too.
Failing in education; failing in neighborhood crime; failing in teen pregnancies, failing in jobs; and yes, of course, failing miserably in attracting new industry in spite of the herculean efforts of Pat Topping.
Will all this change with consolidation? Maybe not. But at least, we’ve got a chance.
However, it takes more than leaders to consolidate. Our government employees are the third largest group in town. What about them? How do they feel about changing their uniforms and titles? And how about their compensation and pension plans? Do we know how many of them voted for consolidation? And the really big question: will they be able to handle the change in culture?
Culture change is more than uniforms and titles. When the Athens/Clarke consolidation happened in 1991, everyone was pleased: the citizens, the community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, everybody -- except government employees. They disliked it. Why would they say that? They still had the same jobs as before, the same salaries, the same benefits. What happened to them?
What happened to them was a change in culture and it happens every time a new leader takes over. If the team cannot learn to live with the leader’s new vision and cannot put aside “the way we used to do it,” the new culture will not be accepted. The team will sulk and complain and gather in the breakrooms to talk about the good old days.
And it’ll start in the mayor’s office. His style is completely different from Sam’s. The former county employees will notice that he doesn’t listen as well as Sam did. Will the mayor change or will they have to change? Probably both.
This is what culture is all about. And it will cascade down to every new chief and department head, every new manager and supervisor. These leaders may not be new to their jobs, but their teams might well be new to them.
We know why we consolidated. We did it to stop the bickering; we did it to put aside our differences; we did it to find unity. For more than a year, community leaders have worked hard to fashion the new joint pension plans, the new organization charts, the new taxes and licenses, and finally, the new employee policy manual. This was all done to achieve unity in Macon/Bibb. Now it’s up to you: our government employees. Please don’t blow it.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.