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Houston's new mayors: The first 100 days

Communication has become a major barrier for Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen as he sits with a council composed mostly of supporters of the late Donald Walker.

While some have banded to push through the vision of the city’s former leader, who died Sept. 28, Shaheen has gone about prioritizing city needs according to what he says he has heard from the average resident.

Shaheen is one of three new mayors in Houston County’s largest cities who, from the beginning, had their work cut out for them in their first 100 days in office.

“I had to learn to sell to each different type ... different cultures and religions and faiths and personalities,” Shaheen said of his time as a pharmaceutical sales representative, which he said also comes in handy as mayor. “That’s not work. That’s fun. It stretches and challenges me. It’s a part of life.”

Centerville: Openness

Centerville officials met at Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club in Cordele last month to prioritize the city’s needs and focus on ways to accomplish the to-do list. The only newly elected official was Mayor John Harley, who contested and won an election against former Mayor Harold M. “Bubba” Edwards in November. Last year’s retreat, organizers and officials say, spent more time dealing with the personalities of the mayor, council and department heads. This year’s retreat finished ahead of schedule and accomplished a lot more.

“I guess you can call it a lesson learned,” said Harley, who lost in his run for mayor in 2005 against Edwards. “When I told them I was going to run, they said (if you win), I hope you’ll be more open with us. When I won, I took steps to do that.”

The transition has been better than Harley expected. Aside from the openness, which goes back to his days as the city’s administrator, Harley has tried to figure out the city’s inner workings before jumping in and making decisions.

“The most critical thing for me is feeling out where the power is in the city,” he said. “There are people who have some powers over areas, over people. You have to get a sense of where that power is. Feel where it is and make sure it coincides with implied authority.”

Up next for the city will be starting work on the Margie Drive extension, which, among other things, should help ease traffic.

Harley also hopes to raise the city’s status in the area.

“Council members have talked to me about making sure Centerville is a player in things in Middle Georgia,” Harley said.

As a part-time city leader, Harley has the challenge of balancing his time between City Hall and his family’s businesses. Recently, he went to Perry to show support as mayor when Tommy Stalnaker, longtime county operations manager, announced his intention to run for chairman of the Houston County Board of Commissioners. He’d already been in the area on matters not related to the city.

Perry: Smooth sailing

The easiest time so far has been had by Jimmy Faircloth, the mayor of Perry. Faircloth, who ran unopposed after Jim Worrall decided to retire from politics, got a head start by calling his first meeting in mid-December with current and newly elected council members as well as with the city attorney and city manager. That way, he said then, they could discuss potential procedural changes and hash out immediate issues ahead of their first official meeting Jan. 5.

The move apparently worked. Mayor and council appear to have a good working relationship and are taking care of business as it comes before them.

Much of the work for the city is being accomplished by the mayor and council as a unit. Individual committees have yet to be decided, and the entire group is overseeing city’s business.

“It’s been extremely beneficial from an educational standpoint,” Faircloth said. “We’ve been able to hear in-depth descriptions of the different departments in the city ... which bring the council — especially the new members — up to speed.”

The addition of a Monday work session before Tuesday night council meetings also was aimed at getting through items on the agenda before the meeting started. Faircloth said he brought it up as a way to make sure everyone had a chance to say their peace. Council meetings, because of this, have been a breeze.

That first big issue has yet to come up.

Late last year, Councilwoman Phyllis Bynum-Grace said she felt the city employees needed to take some time to work on the image presented to those who do business with the city. Several have spoken of the city’s financial situation and how the budget process was something the entire council needed to be involved in. That issue will be fleshed out as the budget process begins close to summer.

At the council’s last meeting, Faircloth told council members to start thinking ahead to items for consideration in the next special purpose local option sales tax. Many of those projects likely will go toward economic development in the area.

Warner Robins: Ups and downs

Chuck Shaheen stood in the middle of Warner Robins’ first council meeting of February, red-faced, concerned that a visitor at the meeting had been brought there without his knowledge.

“This is another thing that concerns me,” said Shaheen, just five weeks into his four-year term as the city’s mayor. “I’ve got to be informed when these people come.”

The visitor, who represented Wachovia Bank, was there to discuss options for funding the city’s proposed law enforcement center. That was further than Shaheen thought the called meeting would progress.

“All I’m asking is give me a phone call. Send me a text,” the mayor said. “I have an open-door policy.”

But Shaheen has been mostly working on the Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership and getting it started. After that, he said, everything else will fall into place.

So far, he’s been successful. Gary Lee, director of the city’s redevelopment agency, oversaw a committee of local residents and regional officials who helped secure a firm to perform an environmental assessment on the land adjacent of Robins Air Force Base, where the city plans to build G-RAMP. The project will be a city-run partnership to help with aircraft maintenance, which officials hope will bring more business to the city and create hundreds of jobs in the process.

Logistics consultant Don Jarzynka told Warner Robins City Council in February he could see G-RAMP up and running by the end of 2011, and he’d see to it that everything would happen on that schedule. Last month, the council selected a firm recommended by Jarzynka and his G-RAMP Committee to complete an environmental assessment of the land designated for the project. The assessment should be complete by year’s end, Jarzynka said, and construction of the project’s first phase could still be complete by the end of 2011.

The credit for that goes to Shaheen.

“He’s basically let it be driven,” Lee said. “He took his hands off and let it be steered by a committee that’s been focused on that. He didn’t have his hands on it trying to direct it. He’s a big part of why it’s moving.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.

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