Macon council ignores Reichert’s halls of fame funding plan

Macon City Council members decided to adjourn their special called meeting Monday rather than vote on a resolution the mayor brought in his bid to provoke a compromise among state legislators for funding of the Georgia sports and music halls of fame.

Ever since the city and Bibb County last year passed resolutions asking to raise the hotel/motel tax by a penny and split the proceeds equally between the halls of fame, the request has been mired in politics.

State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, has said he would vote for the extra penny only if the Douglass Theatre and a proposed amphitheater/stadium are added to the funding mix. Other Democratic members of the delegation quickly jumped on board. Meanwhile, Republicans have balked at splitting the tax revenue four ways.

That has effectively cemented a stalemate among the seven House members and two senators who make up Bibb County’s delegation.

Mayor Robert Reichert told council members he hoped to breach the deadlock by offering legislators a proposal that was more in line with Democrats’ wishes. His resolution suggests a four-way split, with the caveat that the money would fund a feasibility study for an amphitheater/stadium rather than construction of the venue itself, and that the first $100,000 collected for that purpose would go toward repairs at Luther Williams Field.

About 60 people packed into the council chambers to watch the meeting. Most there opposed Reichert’s resolution, and had been encouraged to attend by Republican Councilman Erick Erickson and radio personality Chris Krok. Many held paper signs Krok passed out that read “No,” and they grumbled loudly when the mayor said something they did not like.

Reichert, who spoke to the council for about 20 minutes on the importance of compromise in politics, said some action must be taken to find more local funding for the halls of fame before this legislative session ends. Officials see that as the best defense against state leaders who want to defund the facilities, shut them down and move them to Atlanta.

“If nothing happens, then we know the budget cuts that are coming this year for the sports and music halls of fame would be difficult for them to reconcile (and make it) difficult for them to maintain operations,” he said.

But many council members suggested the mayor’s efforts were made in the wrong venue. Macon has already conveyed its wishes to the legislative delegation, which is deadlocked regardless of whether the city asks for a two-way or four-way split. It is state legislators who need to figure out how to get beyond their differences, council members said. Plus, Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen had told council members before their meeting that the county would not join the city in submitting a new resolution.

“I just didn’t see what was going on today as a viable way forward,” said Councilman Tom Ellington, who moved to adjourn the meeting after Reichert finished speaking. Adjournment was approved 11-3. Council members Alveno Ross, Mike Cranford and Charles Jones voted against ending the meeting. Councilman James Timley was absent.

Reichert, through a spokesman, said he was disappointed in the council’s inaction. Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who is married to state Rep. Lucas, said Macon has “squandered a grand opportunity” to relieve funding problems for the halls of fame and bring new facilities to the city.

But Council President Miriam Paris said Monday’s action should send a message: State legislators need to honor what the city originally requested of them. Surrounding communities have sent similar resolutions to their delegations and all got what they asked for, she said.

“There’s no reason for it to get sliced and diced the way it is,” she said.

Erickson said Reichert’s resolution was an attempt to capitulate to state legislators “who have held us hostage.”

“It’s aggravating that members of our delegation are constantly substituting their personal feelings for what the city and county want,” he said.

As it stands now, it is likely that four House members — a majority of the delegation — would support a two-way split. That would pass the legislation on to the two local state senators in the delegation, Democrat Robert Brown and Republican Cecil Staton. Both would have to approve the resolution for it to become law, and Brown has said he will not vote for a two-way split.

Councilman Rick Hutto, who first sponsored the resolution, said all of this controversy could have been avoided if the city had acted sooner. He requested the legislation be drafted last May, he said, some eight weeks before state law changed to require cities to gain permission from the Capitol before changing their hotel/motel tax distribution. Had Macon acted sooner, he said, the city could have changed the tax on its own.

“Instead,” he said, “we will be packing everything up in the two halls of fame and shipping them to Atlanta.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.