Merged government takes effect in Macon-Bibb County

The Macon Telegraph

MACON (MCT) — The new Macon-Bibb County government was sworn in Tuesday before a crowd of hundreds at City Hall, unifying the city and county 17 months after voters approved consolidation and nearly a century after the idea was first seriously proposed.

The merger, which takes full effect with the new year, makes the new entity the fourth-largest city in Georgia, with a combined population of 156,000.

Mayor Robert Reichert and eight commissioners took their oaths from Judge Tilman Self.

The ninth commission seat, for District 2, will be decided in a Jan. 14 election between former Macon Councilmen Henry Ficklin and Larry Schlesinger.

“It is truly a great day,” Self said, before quoting the Biblical book of Zechariah, 7:9-10: “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying: execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”

“Pretty good words for a new year, for a new government,” Self said.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, the mayor and commissioners held a swift meeting to approve a unified code of ordinances, personnel and financial policies, and several other basic items that have been worked out over the past year. In all, the event lasted just an hour.

Spectators packed the commission chamber, spilling into the hallway and lobby. Downstairs, the Municipal Court chamber was almost equally full of people watching a video feed, though that broadcast suffered frequent glitches at least during the first few minutes.

Altogether an estimated 500 people showed up to watch, plus another 60 or so who saw the ceremony online at maconbibb.tv, according to Chris Floore, public affairs director for the former city of Macon. His new title, and that of many other Macon-Bibb employees, hasn’t yet been settled, he said.

The Rev. Ronald Terry gave an invocation, praying for unity and wisdom among commissioners, urging them to serve all residents of the county.

Representatives of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department and the Macon Police Department presented the colors. It was fitting that all three agencies participated, Reichert said. With the new year, Macon police officers will all become sheriff’s deputies.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, gave the crowd a brief account of the contents of House Bill 1171, the consolidation charter, focusing on the role of the 15-member task force that spent more than a year working with consultants — attending more than 90 meetings altogether — on consolidation-related topics, including many of the basic items commissioners ratified Tuesday.

Reichert thanked the task force as well, along with staff at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, and local residents including “Calder Pinkston and others.” Pinkston, an attorney, was active in promoting consolidation.

The new government offers a chance for a “new era” locally, with a newly optimistic and collaborative spirit, Reichert said.

“I pledge my best efforts to this end,” he said. But he added a call for continued public participation in building a better community.

“Local government should not be a spectator sport,” Reichert said.

He then called the business meeting to order. As Reichert had asked and hoped, most of the agenda passed unanimously without debate. The one exception was selection of a mayor pro tempore, to preside over the new commission if Reichert is absent. Selection of a mayor pro tem was on the agenda, but some commissioners wanted to put it off until the Ficklin-Schlesinger contest had been decided. Commissioner Mallory Jones moved to do so. Commissioner Al Tillman, however, successfully moved to make the choice immediately.

Commissioner Bert Bivins won the office by acclamation. Tillman said later that a mayor pro tem needs to be in place from the start, especially since all the new commissioners originally were supposed to have been chosen months ago.

Some essential staff appointments were made: Sheila Thurmond as clerk of commission, Judd Drake as county attorney, Dale Walker as county manager, Christi Iuliucci as finance director, Marvin Riggins as fire chief and Robert Faulkner as Municipal Court judge. All of those named already held those jobs, or similar ones, under the separate Macon and Bibb County governments.

The new commission’s first regular meeting is Tuesday, with preliminary meetings at noon and 5 p.m., and the regular session at 6 p.m.