The Union Recorder

January 28, 2014

Unification Charter on City Council agenda, vote possible

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —

This month the Unified Government Charter Writing Committee formerly requested that both city and county governments forward an approved referendum request to the state legislature thereby allowing the citizens of Milledgeville and Baldwin County to vote for or against government consolidation on the November General Election ballot.

Tuesday's City Council agenda features a unification charter line item.

Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said the charter made the agenda for discussion due to the time constraints of a fast Georgia Legislative Session. Local legislatures have to know their next move.

Since the last meeting, City Council members received hard copies of the final charter document ready for potential votes. The mayor said the issue made the agenda since Council has seen the latest version.

“Council will have an opportunity to discuss it at that point,” Bentley said. “We'll see what their preference is.”

A vote isn't guaranteed.

As a whole, Milledgeville City Council members found issue with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government Charter during a Jan. 14 work session presentation.

The law enforcement portion of the charter stating that “the elected Sheriff of Baldwin County will serve as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for Milledgeville-Baldwin County” created the most commotion two weeks ago. 

The charter writing committee and elected officials were told by representatives of the Georgia Sheriff's Association that placing additional duties beyond constitutional mandated requirements on the sheriff must be done on a separate referendum.

“There is a question as to whether that is the case when you actually consolidate,” Bentley said. “That's something we were looking into.”

City Attorney Jimmy Jordan agreed to research the issue and as of press time Monday hadn’t found a definitive answer.

The Rev. David Luke, with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber Board of Directors, said at the last official City Council gathering the charter was “a community document” that no one would agree with 100 percent.

When contacted Monday, Luke said charter supporters were “praying” for the go-ahead this week.

“We are thinking positively that we'll get the number of votes that we need,” Luke said. “We hope Milledgeville can move forward and be the progressive city we know it can be.”

Luke said he isn't an “abolitionist” just a community leader concerned for people in all voting districts.

“If this doesn't work, my attention would immediately move to what's our next step…what's our plan?” he said Monday. “To go back to business as usual is not acceptable.”

The foundation charter for a Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government was completed by a diverse eight-member Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and released May 1, 2013. 

The writing committee's work toward letting citizens vote on government consolidation began two years ago.

When the charter writing process started, the group solicited city and county government expertise though they received little feedback from elected officials. The charter has been through multiple edits since last May.

Highlights of the charter's current form include:

• Seven-member governing board with the chair (functioning as Mayor) elected at-large and six commissioners would represent six Baldwin County electoral districts to be redrawn by the Georgia Reapportionment Office. The new government charter has an even three majority and three minority-voting districts. Elections would be non-partisan;

• Charter calls for continuation of the manager plan of government;

• The elected sheriff of Baldwin County will serve as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer;

• County will divide into a general service and urban service tax districts. The general represents the entire county area, while the urban includes corporate city limits. Special service districts may be established if needed;

• New franchise fees will be used to defray expenses incurred as a result of unification since the consolidated government assumes all debt obligations. After two years, revenue from those fees will be used to lower urban district taxes, according to the charter summary; and

• The charter will protect jobs, pensions, seniority, benefits and tenure of “all” city and county employees as potential savings will occur from attrition.

The proposed charter calls for a 10-citizen transition team including two current County Commissioners, two municipal elected officials and six community members (three appointed by the current City Council and three by the current County Commissioners). This group would assist the new government with consolidation of services.

The charter estimates the government transition including all city and county departments and functions to be completed by Jan. 1, 2017 when the new elected Commission would take office.

Whether citizens support or disagree with government unification, Luke would like to hear local voices.

“I wish people would let our representatives know that they are concerned about the way our city and county is ran currently, and they want a change,” Luke said. 

Tuesday's regular meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall's Council Chambers.

Visit www.mbcunification.com to download the revised charter and executive summary.