The Union Recorder

July 22, 2013

Second joint local government meeting talks unification charter

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — After one year of research and development, the foundation charter for a Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government was completed by the Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and released for public consumption May 1. 

The Baldwin County Commissioners and Milledgeville City Council thanked members of the charter writing committee for their yearlong efforts Thursday. The Central Georgia Technical College gathering served as the second joint local government meeting also.

City Councilman Phillip Joiner was the only district representative not present.

Commission Chair Sammy Hall appreciated the efforts put into the nearly 60-page government consolidation charter.

Hall said he and Mayor Richard Bentley had a feel for both boards' charter opinion. 

“We aren't on board with everything,” the county chairman said Thursday.

Charter writing committee chair Ken Vance said in 28 years as a Councilman the city and county never participated in joint meetings. Vance likened the 'new direction' to the consolidation idea.

Elected officials were reminded the charter is a fluid document. Vance welcomed comments, concerns and suggestions.

“I stand here tonight to tell you we are in a listening mode,” he said. “The discussion has started, and that's a great thing.”

Above all, the charter committee provided a constitutional foundation for an alternative governing method. 

The eight-charter writers represent a diverse section of the city and county. They completed the given task and want the people to decide if they desire consolidation, according to Vance.

Bentley applauded the unification document and helped identify where the political bodies go now.

The mayor recommended both the County Commissioners and City Councilman determine the changes they as individuals would like to see. Afterward, the charter writing committee could condense the alterations down into a revised, workable charter edit by Oct. 1.

Then, Bentley said additional joint meetings with local government and the charter group would behoove the process.

Each government body likes the idea of getting their ducks aligned and sending a representative from the city and county to meet with the charter writers. In the end, the city and county must agree on a joint resolution to move toward the voting stage.

Hall was glad to hear the original charter isn't set in stone.

“I think we all feel better it's a fluid document. We'll work on it in our individual bodies,” Hall said. “Whatever we propose, it has to be something the people will vote on.”

Two County Commissioners — Emily Davis and Tommy French — and one City Councilwoman — Denese Shinholster — questioned moving the unification charter forward.

“What is wrong with the process as we have it?” Shinholster asked. “Why aren't other governments changing as well?”

Though the charter is meant as a foundation not the whole house, French said transition facts must be established. The commissioner described the current document as “shooting in the dark trying to hit a target.”

Chambers said the charter should be put forward to voters to choose if it's good or bad. The unification idea keeps popping up. 

“At some point in time, the community needs to put this forward or bury it,” Chambers said. “It's not our decision to make that choice.”

Charter writing committee member Dr. Stan Aldridge reminded the attendants the charter evolved out of a public forum. Aldridge said many believe the “county can accomplish more with a combined government.”

Aldridge hopes citizen feedback continues over the next few weeks.

The entire charter along with the executive summary and task force member contact information is available on www.mbcunification.com. Citizens may leave a voicemail at 478-387-0671 with any questions or suggestions.

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