Houston & Peach

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Macon pay scale proposal on its way

It looks like Macon Mayor Robert Reichert is close to proposing a pay scale for city employees — something that’s been a top priority for years but has always been too expensive to put in place.

What that proposal will look like is still under wraps.

But City Council members indicated this week that it would probably be built on several things: savings from open jobs, savings from the mayor’s still-under-construction “right-sizing” proposal, and the wiggle the city is about to have on property taxes courtesy of the recent property revaluation.

The mayor’s office wouldn’t confirm that, but spokesman Andrew Blascovich said “the mayor is committed to having a pay scale in next year’s budget.” Blascovich was mum on how it would be funded.

“It’s a big proposal, so there will be a lot of conversations,” Blascovich said. “So we don’t quite want to get into the details of that yet.”

But there were hints this week as council members declined to take action on a separate proposal from Councilman Ed DeFore, who wanted the council to pass a resolution formally asking the mayor to propose pay raises or a pay scale for police officers and firefighters. After that proposal failed to move through the council, DeFore said he understood that the mayor was already working on such a plan.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Cranford said he expected the mayor’s proposal to be funded through job cuts included in Reichert’s forthcoming right-sizing proposal and a property tax increase. The council is not expected to raise the millage rate to get that tax increase, but it also wouldn’t roll the rate back far enough to keep revenues neutral compared to last year.

Since the county reassessed property values this year, sending many of them higher, there’s more tax money to be collected without raising the millage rate used to figure individual property owner’s tax bills. State law requires governments to either roll that rate back to avoid reaping the windfall, or hold public hearings and explain why the new revenue is needed.

Cranford said it’s important that the city do the latter.

“That’s the only way we can maintain services,” he said.

CHAMBLISS: OBAMA BUMP LED TO RUNOFF

One year after President Obama’s election, we asked Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R.-Ga., if the 60-seat Democratic majority could have been avoided? What if the McCain campaign had acknowledged defeat in the last days of the campaign and employed resources in close Senate races?

The question had particular significance to Chambliss, who ran only slightly ahead of challenger Jim Martin in the final weeks. Chambliss failed to garner a simple majority on Election Day, winning re-election weeks later in a runoff election.

“My campaign wasn’t forced into a runoff because of a lack of resources,” Chambliss responded in an e-mail. “Instead, effective turnout in early voting by the Obama team was more of a factor. In the runoff, when Obama was not on the ticket, we won overwhelmingly.”

In 1996, with polls in the final days assuring Bill Clinton’s re-election, Bob Dole conceded his own campaign’s fate and began campaigning for Republican candidates for Congress. Twelve years earlier, former Vice President Walter Mondale did the same for Democrats with polls showing an insurmountable lead for Ronald Reagan.

Could John McCain have done the same in the final days of the 2008 campaign?

Longtime Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was defeated by challenger Mark Begich by fewer than 4,000 votes. In Minnesota, Al Franken (after a lengthy court battle to eventually certify the results) beat Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes.

DEBATE OVER MAYOR’S POWERS COMING BACK

Debate over the balance of power at Macon City Hall will come back before the City Council soon, as some of Mayor Robert Reichert’s supporters push again to restore mayoral budgetary powers that were taken away during the last administration.

At issue is the power to transfer money from line item to line item within a department. During Mayor Jack Ellis’ tenure, the City Council took that power away, requiring council action to move the money around.

Now some council members, including Erick Erickson and Nancy White, say it’s time to restore that power. Pending legislation would allow the mayor’s office to approve transfers as high as $5,000 without council approval, as long as the money doesn’t leave a particular department and the council is informed of the transfers on a monthly basis.

Under the current arrangement, “there is a lot of — I don’t know if gridlock is too strong a word,” White said. The council had a reason for taking the power away from Ellis, but Reichert deserves “a clean slate,” she said.

The mayor said he’s “most appreciative” of the effort. He described the process the city’s Municipal Court had to go through recently to buy a filing cabinet.

The court had already spent all but a little of its “furniture and fixtures” line item but had enough left over for “books, bindings and publications” to buy the cabinet, Reichert said. But in order to do that, the court had to involve the city finance office and the city attorney’s office, get a budget adjustment ordinance written, have it referred to a council committee, get the committee to vote and then have the full council approve the purchase, Reichert said.

“It took an inordinate amount of time, talent and energy,” Reichert said.

Only time will tell if Reichert has enough support on the council to make the change.

Several members have resisted restoring powers taken away from the mayor’s office, saying they’d rather take a wait-and-see approach with Reichert.

Some have said the communication problems that bothered them during the Ellis administration have persisted under Reichert.

It’s possible that this could all be cleared up without controversy, but that’s seldom been the Macon way in recent years. If early buzz is any indication, there’s a good chance that this will all be an issue during the 2011 mayor and council elections as some members are cast as “pro-Reichert” and others as “anti-Reichert.”

IN OTHER COUNCIL BATTLE LINES NEWS ...

Speaking of the debate over power and protocol at City Hall, an inner-council disagreement may soon be settled.

Last month, Council President Miriam Paris and Council Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Cranford got into it over Paris’ decision to refer a $2 million funding request for a housing project to the Community Resources and Development Committee instead of Cranford’s committee.

The situation was resolved when Paris agreed to send the proposal to both committees, and the item eventually passed easily. But Cranford is following that up with a proposed change that would tie the president’s hands a bit more on these issues.

He wants it written into the council rules that “any matter that requires a present or future appropriation of funds shall be referred to the Appropriations Committee and may also be referred to the standing committee having oversight of that matter.”

That will clear up a bit of vagueness in the council’s rules. Already, a financial request has to go through the Appropriations Committee. But because the $2 million measure was more a future promise for funding — dependent on whether the Macon Housing Authority eventually gets a federal grant it’s shooting for — there was some disagreement over whether it counted as a bona fide appropriation.

“I really don’t have any problem with this,” Paris said after reading Cranford’s proposal. “Of course, I don’t have the last say so. It will go to the Rules Committee. (They’ll) vote it up, vote it down, send it to the floor.”

The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Dec. 2 at City Hall, Chairwoman Nancy White said.

Telegraph staff writers Travis Fain and Thomas Day contributed to this report.

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