Tomorrow, citizens of Bibb County and Macon have a choice, to consolidate or not. But, to quote the Talking Heads, “how did I get here?”
The pathway to tomorrow’s vote was both long and filled with political landmines. Consequently, supporters of consolidation readily admit the plan being voted on is not perfect. The detractors, naturally, point out perceived flaws with the consolidation plan. But supporters realize this vote may be their last chance to move Macon and Bibb County forward.
Consolidation isn’t a new idea; people in Macon have talked about it for nearly a century. Many look to the success of consolidated Columbus as incentive. Despite this, and the relative success of other county/city consolidation ventures in Georgia, Macon and Bibb have not voted on the matter in the last thirty-five years. And now, frankly, the city is falling apart.
I spent the better part of the last three years in Macon. I experienced both the “good” and the “bad” of Macon. It’s not a city beyond hope. At the same time, Macon can’t sit back and pretend things will “get better” without action.
The proposed charter is the result of multiple attempts to get a consolidation bill through the General Assembly. After some fresh faces were elected last cycle, a bill finally passed and was placed on tomorrow’s ballot. Then people started picking sides. Perhaps as interesting as the actual debate over consolidation is the division amongst supporters and the opposition.
Generally, in Macon, elections strictly adhere to party lines. Democrats support a set of issues and candidates and Republicans have a different set of candidates and issues. Not so with consolidation. Some Republicans now find themselves aligned with Elaine Lucas, C. Jack “Hakeem” Ellis, and other fixtures of Macon’s Democrat party in opposition of consolidation. Similarly, many Democrats and Republicans ardently support consolidation. Consolidation makes for strange bedfellows, I suppose.
Supporters claim that consolidation will decrease bureaucracy, save the governments money, and allow for lower property taxes. Detractors allege that consolidation will cost more money and unduly infringe on the voting rights of African Americans. One key provision would cut the number of elected officials from twenty-one down to ten. Currently, the city of Macon has a fifteen-member City Council and a Mayor–this reduction is the source of many of the arguments that consolidation would remove power from African American Democrats. The benefit of a smaller legislative body is patently obvious; the body can act more swiftly and effectively, rather than meandering through various legislative channels for months.
While there are many questions about the benefits of consolidation, the important question will be answered tomorrow–when Macon votes.