Bibb commission considers hiring Atlanta lobbyist

Just days after this year’s legislative session ended, Bibb County commissioners said they’re disappointed and frustrated with the local delegation, citing a lack of communication about what was going on in Atlanta.

Some commissioners went on to suggest that the county may need to hire someone, perhaps a lobbyist, to monitor and relay information to the local level.

“I think it’s time for us to consider having someone in Atlanta during the session to make sure we are kept apprised on things affecting Bibb County,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Edwards pointed to the wrangling that went on at the Capitol regarding a proposal to increase the hotel/motel tax to help fund the music and sports halls of fame.

Unbeknownst to him, Edwards said, the law was changed in a previous session that required such a proposal to go before the Legislature. Previously, the hotel/motel tax could have been changed at the local level.

“We need to have some mechanism of making sure that when stuff is coming down the pike we don’t get blindsided,” Edwards said.

The hotel/motel tax proposal ultimately failed because of disagreement between some members of the delegation about how the extra penny would be split.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said communication can always be better, but it’s also a two-way street.

“We need to do a better job of communicating with our local officials. We need to hear from them more often about what their needs and concerns are,” he said.

In addition, he said, he was in the dark as much as local officials when some state legislators began making changes to the hotel/motel tax deal and proposed new bills. Commissioners said they also were caught unaware of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, that would have reduced Macon Water Authority board members’ terms from six to two years. Ultimately, the MWA terms were reduced to four years.

“That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” Commissioner Elmo Richardson said, noting that the water authority didn’t even know the changes were being proposed. “We don’t need these kind of surprises.”

State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, said it was “just one of those years.”

Commissioners may not have liked what happened with the hotel/motel tax, but “nobody contacted us about what they were going to do prior to doing it.”

The commission was approached a couple years ago by a man in Atlanta who offered to lobby for Bibb County, Richardson said. The man’s services were “fairly expensive,” and there were other problems with that particular offer, he said.

But the commission may want to revisit the idea, he said.

Peake said whether the county hires someone is up to commissioners.

“It sure can’t hurt,” he said. But “I’m not sure it’s a wise use of taxpayer money when all they need to do is feel free to call me at any time.”

Some commissioners praised state Rep. Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch, for his involvement with them. Epps attended a committee meeting earlier in the day to discuss an issue in east Bibb.

Commission Chairman Sam Hart said better communication among the delegation, commission and other local entities needs to start now. The annual meeting with state legislators in December is too late and not enough, commissioners said.