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April 1, 2014

Reaction to new unification motion

MILLEDGEVILLE — State Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) announced last week that a newly selected seven-member citizen team will help him introduce a charter unifying the governments of Baldwin County and the City of Milledgeville during the 2015 Georgia legislative session.

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 complete the group that doesn’t lean toward private, city or county interest, according to Kidd.

The seven-member group will start up within three weeks.

The group will meet once a month at different publicly accessible city and county locations to gather unification related input. Kidd said local government officials and the community at-large will be invited to each open gathering.

The working consolidation charter is complete and will provide the basis for future moves, according to the legislator. Last week, Kidd estimated a four- to five-month timeframe to polish the document.

Kidd said the unification charter will 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.

The best-case scenario is a unification vote by November 2016.

Chair of the Unified Government Charter Writing Committee Ken Vance said he “fully supports” what Kidd is doing.

“I’m certainly supportive of anything that keeps unification on the front burner,” Vance said Monday. “I don’t know what changes will be made to the document, but I know the initial charter writing committee will be in the audience to answer questions, make suggestions or give historical perspective. Anyway we can help we’ll be glad and honored to do.”

Pastor David Luke, with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber Board of Directors and spokesman for the charter writing committee, said Monday he also supports the new direction.

Luke did wish more original charter writing committee members were directly involved.

“However, I think our goals are the same,” he said. “I support (Kidd’s) actions, and the fact that we are still moving toward getting this charter to the House.”

The unification spokesman encourages people to come out with questions and concerns during open meetings.

“This is a document for all people. Every citizen, regardless if you are for or against unification, should come out and be a part of this process,” Luke said. “This will determine our future government. That developmental function is important to everyone.”

Luke said he is thankful for experienced individuals like Kidd that can “navigate us through this process.”

The foundation charter for a Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government was completed by a diverse eight-member 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 undergone through six revisions since last May.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia worked developed a tighter unification draft charter for introduction to the Georgia General Assembly. The current charter, as it stands, went from 56 to 48 pages. Kidd said the Carl Vinson advisors incorporated 13 pages worth of charter amendments.

“The document we have now is a good document,” Vance said. “I’ve read other charters and ours holds up extremely well. There are possibilities for more changes out there. It can make what I think is a strong document stronger.”

County Commission Chairman Sammy Hall and Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley are working to form a committee consisting of two Council members, two commissioners, both city and county managers and attorneys and any staff, two members of the original Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and two members to continue charter dialogue and revisions.

Bentley believes local political parties should be involved. The aforementioned committee featuring elected officials, staff and others is almost ready also.

“We are ready to have that committee meet and want to be inclusive of the writing group and let them get to work on it. We are to that point,” Bentley said. “We think that is the best direction to go.”

This committee will take the last charter version and work on it from there.

“We do understand that whatever needs to be done should be done by September or October to get to the Legislature by the next session,” the mayor said. “We fully intend to do that.”

The Milledgeville Mayor said he’d speak with Kidd this week to discuss intentions on the unification charter front.

Vance said at the end of the day “it’s a people’s government whatever government it is.”

“We want the people to have a say,” he said.

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