Macon-Bibb consolidation seems headed for stalemate

ATLANTA — Consolidation talks for Macon and Bibb County seem headed for a stalemate, with state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Sen. Robert Brown at odds over a key part of the potential merger.

Both legislators used the term “deal breaker” Wednesday to describe a spending cap Staton wants to hold costs down for a potential new government.

Staton, R-Macon, said he won’t sign off on a November voter referendum to merge the two governments without it. Brown, D-Macon, said he won’t OK the vote with it, calling the measure “too much of a hold on local decision making.”

These comments came Wednesday afternoon during a frank meeting of local legislators at the state Capitol. After the meeting, state Rep. Allen Peake, consolidation’s biggest cheerleader among legislators, remained optimistic that a November vote would be held. But for that to happen, Brown and Staton will have to find some agreement on an issue neither was willing to compromise Wednesday.

Consolidation would be accomplished by a majority local vote in Bibb County, potentially in a November referendum. But the state Legislature has to call for that referendum. And since Staton and Brown are Bibb County’s only two state senators, both need to agree for the referendum to move through the Senate.

“As a practical matter, I don’t know that we can resolve this stuff,” Brown said Wednesday. “I don’t want to string people along.”

There’s also a push to delay the consolidation vote, moving it to 2011 instead of later this year. Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart’s Think Community group is asking for the delay, but there didn’t seem to be much support for that among legislators Wednesday.

Particularly, the group asked legislators to extend the terms for current City Council members by a year, delaying city elections from 2011 to 2012. Think Community co-chairmen Kirby Godsey and Virgil Adams broached that subject last week in a letter to Peake, R-Macon.

The extension would line up Macon City Council elections with Bibb County Commission elections to simplify a transition, the letter states.

Said Brown: “I’m not going to sit here in the Legislature and say ‘you’ve got another year.’ ’’

Staton agreed with Brown on not delaying city elections.

Legislators agreed Wednesday to keep talking about consolidation, and Brown plans to put his own version of a potential new government charter on paper. That would be the third plan before legislators, joining Peake’s and Staton’s.

But Brown, who has worked for consolidation in the past only to see the effort fail, said it all seems like a waste of time right now.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I could care less about consolidation. ... I gave up on it, and I’m not going to use any political capital on it. ... The only reason I’m dealing with it is it’s on the table, but if y’all want to keep talking, we’ll keep talking.”

Telegraph writer Mike Stucka contributed to this report.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.