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March 29, 2014

Kidd reignites unification discussions

MILLEDGEVILLE — The proposed charter unifying the governments of Baldwin County and the City of Milledgeville didn’t make the recent state legislative session.

The document and the one government notion aren’t dead though.

State Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) announced Thursday a newly selected seven-member citizen team will help him introduce the “best document without political involvement” during the 2015 legislative session “to give the people a true choice” by November 2016.

Kidd brought together former city attorney Jim Peugh, the Rev. Tony Fraley, businessmen Travis Strickland, Jeff Owens and Jimmy Ivey, Georgia College Sociology and Government Department Chair Dr. Costas Spirou and former county commissioner Linda Fussell for the job.

He said the individuals don’t lean toward private, city or county interest.

“Why not have a group of businessmen who have no ax to grind one way or the other to come together and put together what potentially could be the best document out there for the people of Baldwin County to ultimately decide?” Kidd said. “I want it to be a people’s document. That’s where this group comes from.”

The group will meet once a month at different publicly accessible city and county locations to gather unification related input.

“I was asked to do it and am happy to oblige. This county and city have been good to me, and whatever ways I can return the favor, well that’s the reason I’m here,” Peugh said.

Kidd said local government officials and the community at large would be invited to each open gathering.

The group will invite more feedback from City Council and Baldwin County Commissioners throughout the process.

“Let them have their say just like any member of the public can have theirs,” Kidd said.

He estimated a four- to five-month timeframe to shore up the document. A part-time secretary will organize and make sure Baldwin County knows about every meeting, Kidd said.

The working consolidation charter is already complete and will provide the basis for future moves, according to the legislator.

The foundation charter for a Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government was completed by the Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and released May 1, 2013. The writing committee’s work toward letting citizens vote on government consolidation began nearly three years ago. The charter has been through multiple edits since last May.

In January, the charter writing committee formally 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 Unified Government Charter on the November 2014 General Election ballot.

The Baldwin County Commissioners voted 3-2 to send the previous charter onward to Atlanta early last month. Milledgeville City Council’s impending vote on a charter resolution never happened, as the aldermen voted to remove the item from the regular meeting agenda.

Weather, and an unusually short session in general, erased any ballot making hopes. There was no need for a City Council vote because this year’s unification legislative introduction clock had all but expired.

Too little time remained in the legislative session to get the consolidation resolution document drafted by the Office of Legislative Council.

Prior to these actions and talk about unification, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia worked on developing a tighter unification draft charter for introduction to the General Assembly. The charter as it stands went from 56 to 48 pages.

Kidd said the Carl Vinson advisors incorporated 13 pages worth of charter amendments.

After speaking with County Commission Chairman Sammy Hall, Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said in February a committee consisting of two Council members, two commissioners, both city and county managers and any staff, two members of the original Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and two members of the community would be “expeditiously” formed to continue charter dialogue and revisions.

Kidd said he hasn’t heard from any elected official parties since.

“I don’t know what they are doing,” he said.

This seven-member group will start up within three weeks. Kidd strongly believes city and county citizens have the right to support or oppose this government structure issue and sees this as the best path to reach that final ballot box destination.

Kidd said the unification charter would be introduced as a House resolution in 2015. A new House Rule states that a consolidation charter must be received in the first year of a two-year session timetable and passed the second year.

“Like any other bill or resolution it can be amended up until the time that it’s passed,” he said. “That’s the purpose of introducing it one year and passed the following year in case there are changes that need to be made to that document. It doesn’t become final until passed by both [legislative] bodies.”

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