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Hundreds gather to protest WR government discord

WARNER ROBINS -- A stream of former City Council members and community leaders said Tuesday afternoon that the current discord among city officials is unproductive, embarrassing and damaging to the existence of Robins Air Force Base.

“When you have such discord and non-civility, then nothing’s going to get done,” said Ron Smith, a local business owner, retired Air Force general and former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, who spoke mainly about the council’s effect on Robins. “The past, you can’t do anything about. I’m worried about the future.”

More than 300 Warner Robins residents crowded the main foyer of Houston Mall at the first “Rally to Reform” meeting called by the Citizens for Better Government, where speakers criticized the past year of city government disagreements. Former City Council members implored current city officials to read and understand their duties under the charter, be honest and ethical, and to remember why they have their positions.

“Maybe that’s what’s wrong, they think their position is a position of power,” said former city councilman Bill Douglas, who served from 1974 to 1994, noting a councilman’s comment that “he was willing to give up his power.”

“They’re in a position of service.”

Smith said the group is nonpartisan, and the meeting was not meant to point fingers at any one city leader. He said it was an opportunity to talk about the city government problems and develop “a plan of attack.”

“Maybe it’s just how we communicate,” he said. “Maybe it’s that we need to get groups of citizens to go down there to speak to our city officials.”

Most speakers generalized the statements, noting recent council decisions and controversies.

Former councilman and interim mayor John Havrilla said it’s the council’s voting record that concerns him. He noted the City Council’s vote to overturn Police Chief Brett Evans’ suspension after two days, allowing unauthorized monies to be billed for a city audit, and the implementation of an appellate process for department heads.

But, it was the recent decision not to reappoint Jim Elliott as city attorney “that put me over the edge,” he said. Council initially declined to renew the long-time city attorney’s contract, then changed its mind two days later during a called meeting.

The strongest comments came from former councilwoman and former acting Mayor Henrietta McIntyre.

“I can sum up what’s wrong with our city officials in one statement,” McIntyre said. “We have one mayor; he’s been duly elected. We have four wanna-be-mayors.”

McIntyre said she has never seen elected officials “act the way ours do,” and it’s embarrassing to both Warner Robins and the state of Georgia. The former city councilwoman of 20 years said the problems among the city’s leaders also threatens the survival of Robins. Smith, who commanded WRALC from June 1995 until November of 1997, mirrored her sentiments, speaking at length about the Air Force’s approval process of the community surrounding its bases.

“It takes years, and years, and years, and years to get a good reputation,” he told the crowd. “It takes one bad decision” to destroy that reputation.

The reputation of Warner Robins was a central theme for all of the speakers.

Dick Walden, a former Warner Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce director, said the city made great progress in the past decade -- leaders in road construction, population growth, business and industry, education and health care.

“But, since January of 2010, our city, sadly, has tumbled from our lofty perch,” he said. “We’ve become, sad to say, the laughingstock of Middle Georgia.”

Walden said the residents in attendance Tuesday need to make “a commitment to do something about it, and let our city officials know it’s not OK.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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