Consolidation task force sets its rules, meeting times

The committee charged with welding Macon and Bibb County governments together met for the first time Wednesday, and decided that as few as five of its 15 members would be able to make binding decisions.

Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington, a committee member but an opponent of the city-county consolidation plan approved by voters July 31, said he wants the group’s next meeting to consider “some tweaks” to the new government charter, and recommend that the city and county jointly seek an insurance plan manager. The next meeting is set for Sept. 19.

The Macon-Bibb County Consolidation Transition Task Force gathered at Macon City Hall with 14 of its 15 members present. The initial meeting, said the task force’s co-chairwoman, state Rep. Nikki Randall, was to organize the group’s work.

Twelve members were present when the meeting started, and three more arrived at intervals. Only state Sen. Cecil Staton, Randall’s co-chairman, was absent the full time. She said Staton had “a real-job conflict” and couldn’t attend. Randall apologized for “some mix-ups” in providing adequate meeting notice to members.

Task force members took the chairs usually filled by Macon City Council. About 20 others watched, mostly media and city or county officials.

Voters in Payne City, Macon and Bibb County approved consolidation earlier this summer by an overall margin of about 57 percent to 43 percent. The new nine-member commission and countywide mayor will be elected in November 2013 and take office at the start of 2014.

Section 37 of House Bill 1171, the legislation that set consolidation in motion, specifies that the 15-member transition task force will work on “planning and preparing for the assumption of governmental powers by the restructured governing authority.”

Ten members are on the task force because of the offices they hold, named in the legislation. They are Randall and Staton; Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart; Elmo Richardson, chairman of the county commission’s Finance Committee; Macon Mayor Robert Reichert; Ellington, chairman of the Macon City Council’s Appropriations Committee; Macon City Council President James Timley; Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce board President Leonard Bevill; Macon Police Chief Mike Burns; and Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena.

The remaining five were chosen by the local legislative delegation. They are Bill Underwood, president of Mercer University; Pearlie Toliver, retired vice president of BB&T and vice chairwoman of the Macon Housing Authority board; Roy Fickling, president of Fickling & Co.; Jeffery Monroe, partner at the law firm Jones, Cork & Miller; and outgoing state Sen. Miriam Paris.

In short order the task force Wednesday set the number of members needed to do business at a quorum of eight, and the level required to pass any proposal at a simple majority of members present.

Reichert said that means if eight of the 15 committee members are present, five would be enough to pass “any measure.”

Before the July 31 consolidation vote, there was talk of making “some tweaks” to the new government’s charter, Ellington said. If any changes are to be made before it goes into effect, those will have to come from the January session of the General Assembly, so such requests need to be formalized quickly, he said.

Ellington opposed the consolidation bill as adopted on two grounds: the requirement to cut the combined government budget by 20 percent in the first five years, which he called unrealistic; and the need for six members of the nine-seat new commission to approve an annual budget. He said that could lead to a bloc of four holding the budget process “hostage.”

Ellington also said the task force should consider recommending the city and county jointly seek a provider or manager for employee insurance, before consolidation occurs. Macon’s council has argued for two years over finding a consultant to help them choose an insurance plan manager, and Reichert’s administration now seeks to postpone that decision until the city itself dissolves.

Laura Mathis, director of public administration for the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said the regional commission made a proposal at Reichert’s request to handle the task force’s staff work. According to an Aug. 27 letter from Mathis to Reichert, the regional commission will host the group’s future meetings, prepare agendas, keep records, manage projects, and handle bidding for professional services such as building assessments and pension advice. The $85,994 price tag will be covered by the annual dues the city and county already pay the regional commission, she said.

The letter offers a variety of other services at additional cost, including review of existing ordinances, writing personnel policies and a pay plan, and analyzing staffing needs for 2,140 employees; but only the basic staff work was approved Wednesday. The rest would cost $208,178 altogether, according to Mathis’ letter.

Randall recommended monthly meetings, and after a short debate the group decided on the third Wednesday of each month at 3:30 p.m. That means the next meeting would be Sept. 19. Hart asked if the regional commission office can accommodate the general public.

“We can take the task force members plus another 35 or 40 people in our room,” Mathis said.

From now on the task force will meet at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission office, 175 Emery Highway.

Randall passed out a proposed list of committees. It was accepted without demur, and she asked members to sign up for their first, second and third choices.

The committees as listed are:

Finance Committee, to focus on “budgeting, pension, procurement, financial advisors to combine/reissue bonds, and audits.”

Facilities Committee, to focus on “assessment of public buildings in order plan for the reassignment of personnel, improvements needed in order to accommodate the new government, and other matters.”

Technology Committee, to focus on “integration of IT systems, including computer networks, telecommunications, radios, cable, etc.”

Human Resources Committee, to focus on “organizational structure, pay plan, job descriptions, employee benefits.”

Laws Committee, to focus on “combining city and county ordinances.”

After less than half an hour Randall adjourned the meeting, urging task force members to stay for a get-acquainted lunch in the mayor’s conference room.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.