Nearly a year ago, Baldwin County residents were urged to turn out for a series of informational sessions on merging city and county government. The four forums that ensued, hosted by Partners for Progress, aimed to equip residents with information on unification and its many variations with regard to city and county government. Since then, the exploration of unification has continued. A steering committee has since answered the charge for drafting a new charter proposal, comprised of a diverse group of residents who will lead the process of forming a unification charter for Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
The committee meets regularly and even maintains a website to ensure a degree of transparency in the process. Members meet to explore the charter development process, discussing issues such as existing city and county ordinances, education, constitutional officers, employee benefits, levels of service and other issues that must be addressed in any new, unified charter that is developed.
Information on the committee is available online for anyone interested in finding out more about the process at www.mbcunifica
tion.wordpress.com and how it has been approached in other communities.
It is projected that the charter development process will be a months-long process. Once the charter is written, with input in the process from others in the community, districts will need to be drawn and the charter will be incorporated into a piece of legislation passed by the General Assembly. It will then move to the U.S. Justice Department for approval before an election can be held. The charter must also include specifics on the type of grace period there will be in the transitional unification process where both governments will still be functioning.
Formulating a charter to unify any local government is dictated by the specifics that are included in the agreement, and those specifics are determined by the citizens. We’ve seen in recent months how the government merger process is being undertaken in other communities such as Dalton, and most notably, Macon, where voters moved in favor of unification in July.
There is still an opportunity for the community to be involved in seeing this process through.
There are many ways to examine unification and means by which to approach the process. Opponents of unification contend that fewer elected officials means less accountability and that consolidated government means a larger and less responsive bureaucracy. Proponents often argue that unification streamlines government and eliminates overlaps in services and resources. Still others debate whether there are cost-savings in the process and if it allows for equal representation in government. The truths lie in the charter, and issues and concerns should be examined now, on the front end, rather than later down the road.