How would governments consolidate?

ALBANY-- In the unlikely event that the people of Albany and Dougherty County get to vote on how they're governed, and in the even more unlikely event that they actually approve consolidation, how would it be put into place?

Appendix B of Senate Bill 538 -- the bill that calls for a public referendum to determine whether to merge Albany and Dougherty County governments -- sets the guidelines and timeline for transitioning between the two current governments to the new consolidated government.

Should the referendum be adopted by a majority of voters both in the city and the county, a transition team comprised of local government officials will be established immediately, the bill states.

This transition team would consist of "the city manager; the county administrator; two appointees of the Board of commissioners of the City of Albany; two appointees of the Board of commissioners of Dougherty County; three members of the Albany-Dougherty County Governmental Charter commission, one member selected by the Mayor of the City of Albany; one member selected by the Chairperson of the Board of commissioners of Dougherty County; and one member selected jointly by the Mayor and Chairman, who shall serve as chair of the transition team."

Article IX of S.B. 538 also focuses on the transition period and states that all employees of both governments -- city and county -- will assist the city manager and county administrator and the full transition team in transfer of all equipment, documents, maps, and other government records for the eventual possession of the new government.

As for the full-time employees of the city and county, under S.B. 538, they would instantly become employees of Albany-Dougherty County and would "be assigned to duties as similar in nature as may be practicable within the new government."

S.B. 538 expressly and unequivocally forbids the termination of any former city and county government employee in an effort to reduce duplication of services. The reduction in those services is to come through attrition only, the document states.

Existing government officers for both the city and county -- City Manager, County Administrator, city and county clerk, etc. -- are exempt from this provision and will remain in their positions to facilitate the transition until their successors are named by the new government. At which point, presumably, those not given a position within the new government, will be laid off.

The bill does say that the the new government could alter or amend benefit plans to reduce any disparity between the former city and county benefit plans.

Just as the bill forbids the termination or layoff of employees, it also bars the new government from hiring additional employees within the first 12 months.

Within 12 months of the formation of the government, a pay equalization plan is to be implemented to ensure that the pay for similar jobs that were formerly done by both the city and county -- like police officers -- is the same.

The initial budget for the new government is limited to whatever the combined budgets of the city and county would be at the time of consolidation.

All ordinances and rules that were created by the former City of Albany would remain binding to the residents of the Urban District. Similarly, the ordinances of the former Dougherty County Commission would still be binding within the General Services District.

Any ordinances in conflict would exist in their respective districts until the new commission could review them and make a determination, the bill states.

The new government would have 24 months to former a new code of ordinances that apply to both districts and repeal any conflicting ordinances.

The current governments will continue to operate and function in a business-as-usual mode while the transition team performs their work.

The bill calls for the elections for the new government officials to be held in November 2012 -- a presidential election year as requested by the city commission.

In that initial election, candidates from all eight commission districts will be elected, as well as the Chief Elected Official or CEO.

The members of odd-numbered districts will take office on the first Monday of January, 2013, for an initial term of two-years. The elected officials of even-numbered districts will take office on the same date, but will be in office for an initial four-year term, in order to provide for staggered terms.

There is no explicit statement as to how long the initial term of the CEO will be in this part of the bill, however, in Article III, Section 3-101 where the CEO's position is generally described, the bill states that the CEO's term will be for four years.

Once the elected officials are seated in the new commission, the members of the transition team will serve in an advisory position to aid in getting the government up and running.

The newly-elected officials will assume limited powers initially, having authority by charter only to recruit and hire a manager and attorney, hold meetings to set committees, boundaries of the Urban and General Districts, prepare their initial budget and set a schedule to consolidate remaining departments.

During this initial period, presumably between January 2013 and June 1, 2013, the Albany-Dougherty County Commission will exist alongside the individual governments of the City of Albany and the Dougherty County Commission, although this provision as outlined in the appendix contradicts other parts of the charter that state once the charter becomes effective, the governments "shall terminate as separate political entities and all powers, functions, duties, and obligations thereof shall be transferred to and vested in Albany-Dougherty County."