The Union Recorder

Local News

November 8, 2011

Unifying process often varies

MILLEDGEVILLE — nd

Athens, Augusta consolidation mandated by voters

View a coinciding video with the article below at http://www.cviog.uga.edu/video/consolidation



City and County consolidation is nothing new. Across the country, communities have undertaken the process. Each process has been different and intrinsic to the communities the process attempts to bring together. In some areas, it has worked well. In some it has worked well, over time. And in some other areas, it has caused further

division. There are as many different experiences as there are communities that have attempted consolidation.

Nearby Macon and Bibb County’s consolidation effort stalled years ago as multiple factors, including inflexible personalities and poor communication, doomed the process to leave a bad taste in the mouth of some stakeholders. That community has recently decided to take advantage of a new roster of legislative representation to regroup and

start the process anew.

Athens and Clarke County are a consolidated community. More than 10 years ago, the City of Athens and Clarke County embarked on a mission to consolidate, based on an idea that dated back to the 1960s when the Georgia Legislature created the vehicle to study consolidation. Athens at the time, like Milledgeville presently, was the sole city in Clarke County. Residents saw merit in the idea that the city and county follow the lead of school systems that had recently decided to consolidate, forming a single entity.

That first attempt, followed by a second and third, failed. In the late 1980s, another push for consolidation was made, this time successful.

In the early 1990s, Athens-Clarke County started moving to consolidate government by establishing a mayor and 10-member commission. Law enforcement functions were merged and ancillary services combined. In the 10 years since the consolidation became the law of the land, the unified community has weathered criticism and challenges, but, for better or worse, serves as a model of mandated, or top-down, consolidation.

The City of Augusta and Richmond County also consolidated after a referendum vote, though two small portions of Richmond County, Hephzibah and Blythe, did not join the consolidated entity.

This top-down approach, similar to Athens-Clarke County in some respects such as a single mayor presiding over 10 commissioners as a form of government, placed the city and county on firmer financial footing, but has also left some stakeholders feeling their input into the governing process has been politically diminished.

Organizers of a local push to open the dialogue about city and county consolidation, or unification, in Milledgeville and Baldwin County have stressed that in the process, a roadmap remains in the future.

The dialogue is a starting point to let stakeholders chart the path. A series of meetings about unification opens Thursday evening.

Professor Harry Hayes with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government will provide information about city and county consolidation to participants. The Vinson Institute has assisted other communities with unification methods in the past, providing objective research data and conducting studies on individual communities that help them pinpoint potential issues and gaps they need to address in the process. One such analysis of Baldwin County was conducted several years ago.

Hayes said the university has prepared material for those interested in learning more about consolidation. He said those interested may benefit from watching the video prior to the series of meetings.

"One [source] is a video we have prepared on the topic," Hayes said via email. "It covers some of the same concepts I plan on discussing at the meeting on Thursday. You can access the video on our website at http://www.cviog.uga.edu/video/consolidation."

Partners for Progress is sponsoring the meetings through its government committee chaired by Merritt Massey.

Hayes will be on hand to discuss city-county consolidation processes at the four meetings that will be spread out in different locations,

at different times. Meeting dates and times are:

n 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at Flagg Chapel Baptist Church

n 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Baldwin County Recreation Department

at Walter B. Williams Park

n Noon Thursday, Nov. 17, at Digital Bridges

n 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Baldwin County Board of Education.

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