The Union Recorder

February 4, 2014

County first to vote on unification charter

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —

Weather postponed the City of Milledgeville’s vote on a resolution on the proposed draft charter for a unified government last Tuesday.

Now, the Baldwin County Commissioners are first in the voting line. 

Tuesday's regular meeting agenda holds a unification item.

The resolution on the county commission agenda states, “the next step in the process to unify the governments of Baldwin County and the City of Milledgeville is the approval of a resolution requesting that the local delegation of the Georgia General Assembly introduce legislation in the State Legislature to approve and adopt the proposed Charter.”

County Commission Chairman Sammy Hall, District 3, said the board will vote the resolution up or down.

In January, 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 the Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government Charter on the November General Election ballot.

Local legislatures have to know their next move considering the 2014 session ends in mid-March.

Chair of the Unified Government Charter Writing Committee Ken Vance said Monday the “whole goal is letting the people vote on the charter.”

“That’s all we are asking,” Vance said. “If you are against the charter, then get out and campaign against it. If you are for the charter, then get out and campaign for it. To deny the public the right to vote on this issue kind of goes against everything an elected person ought to stand for.”

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.

“I’m not saying I’m for or against consolidation, but I felt like it needed to be a charter that would make sense and be a good working document,” Hall said. “The original had too many flaws in it. If we are going to have a document, we want to make sure it’s something you can live with.” 

Vance did give the county officials, especially Hall, credit for participating with valid critiques that worked into the fluid document.

The city officials were not so involved, according to Vance.

“No one from the city offered any written suggestions. The mayor (Richard Bentley) did offer some suggestions that had already been made by the county,” the charter committee chair said. “They are all saying we don’t like it. Well what would you change?”

Hall wants to emphasize that local elected officials are voting on a “specific” document not just the “concept of unification.”

“When the referendum comes up in November, it will be an actual vote on that charter, which will, if passed, change the form of government in Baldwin County,” Hall said. “It’s not just whether or not we think it’s a great idea to unify.”

Vance posed a question to local elected officials.

“What’s the difference in voting on this and a (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) resolution?” he said Monday. “There is none. It’s not about the legal jargon. It’s really simple. All they would do is ask the legislature to vote on the charter to unify the government in Baldwin County.”

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.

Based on the charter document, the transition team may make recommendations to the charter through the state legislative process prior to the actual implementation.

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

Vance did say there were other plans to move the charter out of neutral if both local bodies don’t forward the document to the legislature. At the moment, the city and county hold the key.

“We’ll have to see how the vote turns out,” Vance said. “I think the Tuesday’s meeting will be exciting.”

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers, Suite 319, of the Baldwin County Courthouse.

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