The Union Recorder

May 9, 2014

Unification charter preparation date set

Document ready for Legislative Counsel by mid-September

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Two committee chairmen recently appointed to take another look at the charter unifying the governments of Milledgeville and Baldwin County agreed Thursday that a consensus final document would be ready for the General Assembly Office of Legislative Counsel by a Sept. 15 deadline.

Chairman of the unification study committee created by state Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) attorney Jim Peugh and City Councilman Steve Chambers, chairman of the mayor and county commission chair appointed study committee consisting of staff and officials from both governments, members of the original Unified Government Chart Writing committee and two citizens are working together to introduce the document during the 2015 legislative session for eventual referendum vote.

The two charter analytical committees will jointly divide up teams to investigate cost factors, tax and voting districts and the overall document draft.

An open meeting held at Central Georgia Technical College permitted multiple opinions on this generally polarizing issue.

“We know there are two committees out there,” Peugh said Thursday. “I don't see where that will work us into a problem. We both have the objective to try to do something for this county to get it off of dead center and moving again.”

Commissioner Henry Craig said the community should be involved in “helping us know what they want.”

Jeff Owens said a divided community hurts education and economic development.

“We aren't trying to build a document. We are building a vision of what we can be. That's what's important to me. I'd like for our kids to be able to flourish. We aren't doing that now,” he said.

Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said the elected official based committee will get “to the details” of government consolidation.

“We can share information and get to the same goal in that way,” Bentley said.

Peugh said his committee wants no adversarial feel between these two unification study groups.

Chambers wants preparation done whether the proposed consolidation charter passes or not.

“I hope to be able to send us in several different directions at one time and not just answer what are we going to do when we unify,” the councilman said. “I don't want to sit still.”

The city elected official is tired about the “weight upon our shoulders” as far as jurisdictional lines that frustrate department heads trying to do the right thing.

“I hope that somehow between the two committees we can get all of the questions answered and move forward,” Chambers said.

City resident Andrew Strickland worried the unification debate surrounds an idea rather than the language in the document.

“I don't know how productive it is,” he said Thursday.

Strickland feels charter provisions offering the new theoretical government “limitless power” and the employee pension guarantee leave unanswered questions.

Georgia College Sociology and Government Department Chair Dr. Costas Spirou said the charter is simply a “framework that individuals will adjust as it moves along the way.”

“I see it as an unfolding document rather than a restrictive document,” the professor said.

Chambers said a one government cost for public consumption would come out of this process. Tax districts will be a “hot item” as well.

Former Georgia Military College president Maj. Gen. Peter Boylan (Ret.) feels that our community is broken.

“I would hate to see us get lost in the details of creating a charter,” Boylan said. “First of all, we have to look at the fact that something isn't working in our community. How do we fix it?”

Citizen Quentin T. Howell said the research must be done and that elected officials are better equipped to tackle this analysis.

Peugh said elected officials should be available as counsel but looks at the average citizen as the key to the charter.

Citizen Hudman Evans isn't sure instituting a new government will bring more funds to address community ills.

Merritt Massey said a unified government moves the overall population to No. 16 in Georgia up from No. 33, which he perceives as an industry recruitment advantage.

Milledgeville's state representative in attendance said Georgia is now the top state to attract new industry.

“They are going everywhere except here,” Kidd said. “Every unified community across that state that we've researched has increased their economic development because it's a one stop shop.”

Spirou brought perspective as a two-year resident.

“Much of the focus is placed on savings, which is very important, but the advantages moving forward are growth or the potential for growth,” he said. “When you have multiple governments battling over space and jurisdiction, it diminishes the effectiveness of that effort.”

Bentley said the economic development world isn't easy because prospects can't be announced.

“We've gotten more looks over the last 12 months than any community in the state,” the mayor said. “The looks are a testament to what we do. Proof is in the pudding for most people, but you don't know how hard we've worked.”

Craig pleaded with the elected officials involved in the unification charter research to “not think as politicians.”

“This has to be about the community and not elected officials and their future as officials,” the commissioner said. “Let the community talk to you rather than think that we are smarter than the community.”

The unification study committee chairmen are meeting Tuesday for continued dialogue toward the September proposed charter goal.