Reichert administration behind most proposed ordinances

Mayor Robert Reichert has his own job and prescribed duties — his office is charged with carrying out all of Macon’s executive functions — and yet he frequently crosses to the other side of City Hall, where his tasks turn legislative.

In fact, when measured by sponsorships of ordinances and resolutions, he is vastly more productive than any individual City Council member: He exceeds the entire 15-member legislative body put together when it comes to introducing new laws.

Since March 2008, when council staff began noting sponsorships on meeting agendas, the council has approved more than 300 legislative items. Of those, close to 250 — about 81 percent — have been proposed by Reichert’s administration.

Some, like those that seek permission to sign a contract, seek a grant or move money around, are mundane. Others are more complex, including those that create annexation maps or develop ethics policy. What it means or whether it matters that the mayor so actively participates in the legislative process depends on whom you ask.

In Reichert’s view, it’s a function of how Macon’s government is currently set up. Many of the items he sponsors are required for day-to-day management of the city, he points out, and must be accomplished through resolution or ordinance only because the council has insisted on such oversight.

For two years in a row, the mayor has asked during each budget process for greater money management responsibilities. Before this current spending plan was approved, Reichert requested the power to make inter-department transfers of up to $5,000 without council approval and to make council-authorized purchases without returning at the end of the bidding process for a final approval.

The council said no.

“A lot of the day-to-day stuff could be reduced by having a little more flexibility,” Reichert said. “Some of it may be trust. Some of it may be control. But I think they make unnecessary work for themselves and others when they micromanage.”

City Council President Miriam Paris noticed several months ago the disparity in mayor and council sponsorships. At the time, she suggested to her colleagues that it seemed unusual for the mayor to carry such a comparatively large legislative load and that perhaps they should step up their own work. That came after agendas where she saw nothing that originated from the council.

But Paris said last week that she has seen some improvement. Plus, she said, the council spends a lot of time dealing with issues that suddenly fall on the table, and it has been occupied for many months with the budget that was passed at the end of June. Even if council members are not working to introduce new laws, she said, they are spending time researching issues or taking care of the city’s business in some other fashion.

“I don’t think it should ever be interpreted that we’re not doing our job,” she said.

Councilman Rick Hutto agreed with that sentiment. He said it makes sense that the mayor puts forth lots of legislation — Reichert came into office less than two years ago with a broad range of plans and ideas that he hoped to accomplish.

Council members, meanwhile, may spend much of their time responding to constituents who have complaints about the way their garbage is being picked up or about the barking dog next door, he said. Those problems aren’t solved by introducing new ordinances.

“Much of what we do doesn’t require legislation,” Hutto said. And perhaps one day, he added, the council will restore powers that it stripped from the executive branch during former Mayor Jack Ellis’ tenure.

James Timley, president pro-tem of the council, also disputes the notion that council members’ productivity can be accurately measured by the number of laws passed.

Timley said that in many cases, council members are actually the first to bring an issue to the attention of Reichert or a department head. If the problem can’t easily be solved through the mayor’s existing administrative authority, he may seek additional legislative support by proposing a new ordinance.

The reason so many are put forward by the administration is because it’s simply required for daily city operations, he said.

“That’s what’s happening, when you think about it,” Timley said.

“If you don’t know the process, you would be disturbed at the percentage of ordinances and resolutions coming from the mayor.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.