The Macon City Council voted Tuesday to allow drinking on downtown streets this New Year’s Eve, decided against shortening the public comment period during meetings and took a baby step toward tangling again with Mayor Robert Reichert over who has the power to lay off employees.
That last item prompted a pre-council visit from the mayor, who again told council members he thinks the city code gives him the power alone. He also said a rumor that a second round of layoffs is pending — in addition to the 31 planned Jan. 15 — is “patently false.”
The mayor also told council members he’d like to meet with them once or twice a month to improve communication between the two sides of city government. But by the time he’d left council chambers, the fissures between Reichert and some members of council were as clear as ever.
During the meeting, Reichert discussed the reasons his administration removed benches from outside the downtown Dempsey Apartments. He said the apartment’s management asked them to be moved. Reichert had said Monday that he would stand by the move despite calls from senior citizens living in the building that the benches be returned. There’s also a pending council resolution to force the issue and get the benches back.
But as Reichert addressed council members Tuesday, he seemed to have softened on the issue. He said he visited the Dempsey earlier in the day and planned to report back to the council on the issue soon before making any final decision.
As the mayor got up to leave, Councilwoman Elaine Lucas laid into him, saying “I can’t believe” the benches were moved at all.
Lucas said she would “applaud” the mayor checking into the matter more closely, but she also said moving the benches back should be a simple matter. She said the council is not dumb and that everyone knows senior citizens used the benches.
At one point the mayor briefly interrupted Lucas, saying he wanted to make sure he understood something.
“If you stop talking and listen, then you can understand,” she replied.
The two stared darts at each other as other council members and city Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas looked on.
The conversation wound down with Lucas telling the mayor that she looked forward to his working with the council.
“That is so demeaning, Elaine,” the mayor said, letting out an audible “sheesh” as he left the meeting.
After the mayor left the council’s pre-council session, members went into the formal portion of the meeting. Only nine of 15 members participated, largely because five members are in Macon, France, on a sister city trip. The diminished council voted unanimously to move the next monthly “First Friday” celebration to Thursday night so it will coincide with New Year’s Eve and a planned party downtown.
That means alcoholic beverages will be allowed in the streets — in approved cups — the night of Dec. 31, and not the night of Jan. 1, which would be the regular First Friday date.
The council also shot down a measure that would have shortened the time allotted to members of the public seeking to address the council at its twice-monthly formal meetings. Each commenter would have had three minutes instead of five if the measure had passed, but the diminished ranks made it hard for supporters to squeeze the change through.
Councilmen Virgil Watkins and Charles Jones voted against the change, which needed eight votes to pass. It went down in a 7-2 decision.
As for the effort to give the council clear power over layoffs, that debate likely will continue into the new year. The only action taken Tuesday was to refer back to committee for further debate a piece of legislation that would rein in the mayor on this matter.
To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.