The Union Recorder

May 3, 2014

Now two groups analyzing unification charter

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — When the 2014 state legislative introduction clock expired on the existing unification charter in February, Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said a soon-to-be-formed committee would continue charter dialogue and revisions.

This group met for the first time Tuesday.

The mayor and county commission chairman Sammy Hall appointed committee consists of city and county managers and attorneys, City Council members Denese Shinholster and Steve Chambers, commissioners Johnny Westmoreland and Tommy French, Unified Government Chart Writing committee members Dr. Stan Aldridge and Nancy Hartley with spokesperson, the Rev. David Luke and two citizen appointees, Lt. Col. Edward Shelor, a Georgia Military College faculty member with a political science and government administration background, and local business owner Raymond Grimes.

Chambers will chair this group charged with examining the cost of total government consolidation and functional consolidation, which means combining service agencies such as fire departments.

“I feel like all of the information we end up bringing together, whether the consolidation movement is voted in or not, will still be usable whether it’s one government or two,” Chambers said.

Shinholster said this panel will review the positive and negative aspects of government consolidation along with the cost or any cost savings associated over time. This group will “make charter changes, if necessary.”

This elected official based group starts the process with the latest charter form.

The foundation charter for a unified Milledgeville-Baldwin County government was completed by the charter writing committee and released May 1, 2013. The writing committee’s work toward letting citizens vote on government consolidation began two years ago. The charter has been through six edits since last May.

Chambers said questions about the tax and voting district lines under a unified setup will be answered by the end of the process.

Local elected officials are “charged with helping to decide the direction this community would move forward in,” according to Councilman Chambers.

“This committee has been charged to get down to the details of the document,” the mayor said. “The latest amended version [of the charter] is what this committee will actually begin with. Our hope is that through their discussions they will get the information that’s often asked of us as far as how it’s going to affect taxes, the structure of the government with law enforcement and fire protection and those types of things. That’s why we put both of our managers on the committee.”

The mayor isn’t yet sure how this information gathered will make it to the general public. He said notes or minutes will likely be disseminated to the respective elected bodies and media.

At the moment, this committee makes two that are studying unification particulars.

State Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) formed a seven-member citizen team in late March to help him introduce the document during the 2015 legislative session, in time for the November 2016 ballot.

Former city attorney Jim Peugh heads the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Unification Study Committee consisting of 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.

This group will meet once a month at different publicly accessible city and county locations to gather unification-related input starting Thursday at Central Georgia Technical College.

Peugh invited city elected officials to next week’s 4 p.m. gathering. The general public is welcome.

Members of the original charter writing committee will be part of the process also. Peugh said hearing all sides with pros and cons is key in this effort.

Kidd said this group will “be anything but secretive.”

Commissioner French said the elected official based committee sits in a holding pattern until a meeting with Kidd, the mayor and commission chairman. He said there is no need for separate groups.

“Most of the committee feels as though this committee should be the one that really looks at all of the cost factors and everything involved in the charter,” French said. “I’m not for the charter but still have to take a subjective look. If they are going to present a charter, it has to be good for the city and the county as well.

Commissioner Westmoreland also said an upcoming meeting will “see if the two committees could come together.”

“We don’t need to be headed in two separate directions,” the commissioner said. “We really don’t know what’s going on until something happens with [Rep. Kidd]. As soon as they make a decision, we will get back together.”

The elected official based committee won’t meet again until May 22.

Shinholster doesn’t see a reason for two independent groups, either.

“It doesn’t make sense for everybody to attempt to do this. If that’s the case, then we are putting forth a precedent that any group that comes up and wants to change the charter or the structure of an organization would have the right to do it,” the Councilwoman said.

The mayor sees the latest unification charter research committee as the best method to deliver a passable legislative document.

“We hope that (Kidd) will realize this is the process we’ll need. That’s not to say that whomever he has chosen can’t be a part of this. I don’t think this group is exclusive at all. They will welcome anybody,” Bentley said. “It may come out of our meeting with him that there is some type of cooperative effort between the two. I can’t say specifically because we just haven’t talked to him yet.”

As of press time Friday, Kidd said he hadn’t heard from anyone regarding this issue.

The state legislator said he feels that Milledgeville and Baldwin County should come together on the unification charter discussion to let the public decide.

“We can’t even do that without controversy. There should be none,” Kidd said. “I’d love to have one group. There was an attempt to have one group last year, and you ended up having three.”

Bottom line, Kidd said he or state Sen. Burt Jones must introduce the unification legislation at next year’s session.

“I need to have confidence in the people who put it together if I’m sticking my neck out to introduce it to the General Assembly,” Kidd said Thursday. “That’s why I appointed a committee without anybody on it from those three groups, hoping it could be a cohesive group to put something together with no politicians involved.”

The charter didn’t make the 2014 state legislative session because too little time remained to get the consolidation resolution document formerly drafted by the Office of Legislative Council. The new analytical effort must be finished by early fall to avoid another delay.

Potentially, the unification charter would be introduced as a House resolution in 2015, according to Kidd.

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 it’s passed by both legislative bodies and signed by the governor.