Macon council effort to honor Obama halted

A resolution that sought to honor President Obama hit a wall Monday when every member present at a meeting of Macon City Council’s Ordinances and Resolutions Committee voted to table the matter.

They could not come to terms with Councilwoman Elaine Lucas’ proposal to congratulate Obama on his election to the highest office in the land and to make him an honorary member of the council. The lack of agreement came even as an amended version of the ordinance, which was designed to appeal to opponents by dropping some of the more grandiose language and no longer made the president a member of council, waited in the wings.

Lucas said her colleagues seemed unwilling or unable to express their support for Obama’s achievement, and were either scared or confused about council procedure.

“All I wanted to do was draw attention to the fact that this person is a great man,” she said. “Either you’re for the president or you’re against the president.”

Councilman Rick Hutto, who helped write the less provocative version and said he would have had no problems voting for a similar resolution that honored former President George W. Bush, said his aim was to keep the peace.

“I don’t want us to spend hours (at tonight’s full council meeting) debating something that would divide us,” said Hutto, who was not a voting member of the committee.

Still, the idea seemed to attract controversy from the moment Lucas introduced it two weeks ago. She said her decision was prompted in part by the inability of the state House of Representatives to pass similar legislation last month.

The House, which counts among its members Lucas’ husband, State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, planned to name Obama an honorary member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. It was one of hundreds of resolutions honoring or congratulating someone that went before the House this year before the session ended.

But the language used to describe the president upset Tifton-area state Rep. Austin Scott, who is an announced Republican candidate for governor.

After Scott called attention to the measure, it devolved into an argument between black and white legislators and Republicans and Democrats. Ultimately, the resolution stalled.

Republican City Councilman Erick Erickson from the beginning had vowed to fight Councilwoman Lucas’ effort.

He threatened to bog the resolution down with amendment after amendment, either recommending a host of other people for similar honors or inserting language that raised less-flattering aspects of Obama’s character and presidency.

He was true to his word, and the tactic had the effect he intended: After an initial attempt to table the resolution came up short, Erickson told committee members he was prepared to present 101 amendments to the measure. Rather than proceed down that path, the committee voted 7-0 to table the resolution. The eight-member committee needs five votes to take action, so to re-raise the issue several people who voted to stop debate would now have to change their mind.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Erickson, who along with Miriam Paris, James Timley, Virgil Watkins, Charles Jones, Lonnie Miley and Larry Schlesinger voted to table the resolution.

Councilman Mike Cranford, an Ordinances and Resolutions Committee member who left the room right before the vote was taken, said he was willing to consider Lucas’ request until she used the debate to make what he said were “divisive” statements about Erickson’s character.

“I think she ruined any chance that the committee would consider her amendment with that attitude,” he said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.