The Union Recorder

October 10, 2013

Government consolidation charter edits ongoing

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The foundation charter for a Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government was completed by the eight-member Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and released for public input May 1. 

Writing committee member Dr. Stan Aldridge and Rev. David Luke, with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber Board of Directors, updated the Chamber Eggs & Issues crowd Wednesday about the document and the ongoing work towards letting citizens vote on government consolidation.

“We are serious about it,” Aldridge said. “We think it has a lot of positives for the community.”

When the charter writing process began, the group solicited city and county government expertise though they received little from elected officials.

Aldridge said in hindsight the committee should have taken a different approach when releasing the nearly 60-page charter.

“Because we had little input from the city and county elected officials, we made a bad decision. When we had our final document ready, we said we are going to present this with no changes from anybody,” Aldridge said. “That is a decision we have withdrawn. We agreed to take proposed changes through Sept. 1. We will meet in the next couple of weeks to revise the charter as it stands now.”

Once changes are implemented, the writing committee will request a joint meeting with city and county officials to discuss the edited document. 

“At that point, I think we will ask for a vote from them,” Aldridge said. “Most importantly, we'd like them to support an initiative to send (the charter) to the legislature and the Department of Justice to give the people of Milledgeville and Baldwin County a chance to vote and let them decide whether they want consolidation.”

Luke said the recent attempt to take government unification from dream to reality missed a few steps.

“There were some changes overlooked as we perused the document in its current form. The committee quickly adapted and made those changes,” Luke said.

Changing the voting age, removing the commissioner at-large position and leaving the current county voting districts mostly untouched are some of the notable alterations.

Luke said he's learned Milledgeville is nothing like other consolidated Georgia communities.

“I charged the charter writing committee to make this a document that takes everyone's voice seriously,” Luke said. “It needs to be something with ongoing education.”

The criticism isn't political but about “who is going to lose power,” according to Luke.

“No one is talking about what's good or what's bad,” he said. “Everyone person in this room should have the best government money can buy.”

Critics fear job loss as a government consolidation by product.

The original charter says no city or county employee will lose his or her job, seniority, tenure, pension, insurance or retirement benefit upon charter adoption. 

“I don't want to make the mistake of saying there won't be any jobs lost,” Luke said. 

City and county employees performing duplicate duties may be assigned a comparable job and pay.

Economic efficiencies come through future attrition, according to Aldridge.

Taking best practices from both county and municipal governments plays into the unified transition.

Both men highlighted a unification positive of population increase. The city and county combined number could qualify Baldwin for grant monies.

Aldridge said the writing committee would keep pushing local government to vote the unification charter forward. The document must move onto the state legislature before the New Year.

If the local bodies refuse, a citizen petition could move the referendum process onward.

The Chamber surveyed the attendees at Wednesday's Eggs & Issues breakfast. Of the 62 respondents, 61 voted “yes” to the idea the citizens should have the right to vote on consolidation.

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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