While anticipation for the Barack Obama presidency builds in an era of uncertainty, war, budget deficits and social upheaval, closer to home in Bibb County another turn- of-the-page will soon take place, and on first blush, the road ahead will be full of ups, downs and plot twist as well — but with a lot less drama.
Sam Hart will sit in the county commission chairman's seat on Jan. 1, replacing Charlie Bishop, who was blamed, rightly or wrongly, for much of the dissention on the commission and the acrimony between city and county. Politics is the art of compromise, and there was a gut feeling that with Bishop it was an us-versus-them equation even though two-thirds of the "thems" are city as well as county residents. Bishop may look back to curse his handling of Mayor Robert Reichert's annexation proposal. While the idea was flawed, Bishop unnecessarily fanned the flames of city/county rivalry.
While politics is the art of compromise, that compromise can only be attained if the parties involved have a relationship built on doing the best for the entire area. Hart's first order of business will be a service delivery strategy (who does what for whom) to be negotiated with the city. Mayor Reichert decided earlier this year to delay the process until after the election. What looked to be a contentious issue with the former chairman may not be so with Hart. It will be the first test of what is expected to be a new day of city/county cooperation.
The county faces a number of issues, and most of them involve money. How to build a new courthouse? Where to build a new courthouse? How to fund mental health and drug-treatment facilities as the state continues to cut back on funding? How to assure property owners that the upcoming revaluation is fair, however shocking it may be after eight years of tax-digest stagnation?
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However, this election also addressed some intangibles. Mayor Reichert openly endorsed Hart for the chairmanship. The two men are of like mind when it comes to city/county consolidation. What is in doubt is the best way to accomplish that goal and over what time period. Both men are quiet diplomats who bring, not a political agenda to the table, but a heartfelt desire to move the area forward. Hart will be tested even though members of his party now hold the majority. They will have to coalesce and be sure to listen to all viewpoints at the table, including that of the lone Republican, Elmo Richardson, who has a lot to offer the commission. Now is not the time to throw Richardson under the bus, not that the other commissioners are inclined to do so. It is the time to start the slow trek to help this area fulfill its potential. It is time to start operating in the spirit of a proposal that will be introduced by state Rep. Allen Peake that will make most local offices in Bibb County nonpartisan.
Last, Bibb County residents can take some pride in pressing forward with a movement that began last year and the overwhelming support for Mayor Reichert. In the primary and general elections, Reichert won every city precinct. While the support in the white community was not as solid for Hart, (Chairman Bishop won all the majority white precincts though he did not win them with the expected margins, winning only one by more than 75 percent according to unofficial returns) in several of those precincts Hart attracted 30 percent or more of the vote. Those results bode well for the area and indicate that old racial paradigms may be crumbling. Voters, at least in this election, are looking past skin color and selecting who they believe will do a better job for them. The same sentiment was mirrored nationally with the election of Sen. Barack Obama.
In the coming weeks, numbers will be sliced and diced 100 different ways. What cannot be escaped is the amount of work we have ahead of us as a nation, county and city. Let's get to work.
|— Charles E. Richardson/for the Editorial Board