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Ellis may replace roads program oversight committee members

By Christopher Schwarzen
The Macon Telegraph

Strengthening the city-county roads program's citizens oversight committee is a top priority, Macon's mayor said Thursday.

Mayor Jack Ellis said removing members who don't attend regularly could be a good start. Only six of the 13 committee members attended Thursday's meeting. The committee is charged with analyzing and monitoring the roads program.

The Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Program recently forwarded the oversight committee's attendance records to Ellis. He and his staff are considering personnel changes, Ellis said. Under the committee's provisions, Ellis can appoint five of the 13 members.

"If you're not attending meetings, then obviously you're not a good watchman for the citizens," Ellis said. "You're not doing your job, and you should be replaced."

Ellis said he and his staff are contacting those individuals with poor attendance records and asking if they want to continue serving. He has also been collecting recommendations for new members from various citizen groups, including CAUTION Macon, which has questioned the necessity of roads program projects and challenged the makeup of its committees.

"Some of the people we've spoken with have agreed they want to be replaced," Ellis said.

Peter Solomon has asked to be removed from the committee, Ellis said. Solomon was made a member because of his work with the citizens coalition committee that created the roads program referendum. Solomon hasn't attended a meeting since October 1998.

Ellis also said his office was trying to speak with Connie Cater, Terence Gray and Ola Mae Ford.

Cater, also a member because of his citizens coalition work, has missed the last five meetings. Gray attended the October meeting, but that was the first meeting he'd attended since August 1998. Ford has attended about every other meeting since August 1997.

One of the reasons attendance could be so poor is the meeting times, chairman Frank Johnson said Thursday after the group's meeting. Johnson said he would consider changing the 2 p.m. time if he thought more people would attend in the evening.

Thursday's meeting started late. Those attending waited for a sixth member to arrive. Six members are required in order to vote on issues. When the meeting did start, Johnson told members he almost didn't make Thursday's meeting.

"I had a funeral of a friend at the same time," he said. "But I tried to pay my respects last night so that I could be here."

Johnson said he hasn't spoken directly with Ellis about the committee but wants to be included in any discussion about changes.

"It's important people are here," he said.

CAUTION Macon members at Thursday's meeting noted how ineffective the committee has been in the past. They blame the committee's lack of power.

"We've been saying all along the meeting times are bad," said Tom Scholl, one of CAUTION Macon's corporate officers.

Member Suzan Rivers added that the committee needs a chance to do more than "just hear reports."

"They need to look at each project more directly and be involved," she said. "I wonder if any of them have ever seen an environmental assessment for any of the projects. It's not their fault, they don't have the power."

Ellis said he alone cannot change the committee's power. He plans to talk to County Commission chairman Larry Justice, also an executive committee member.

"We'll see if we can't strengthen that," he said. "This committee shouldn't feel it's a rubber stamp for the overall road program. They should carry out their mandates."

That probably will start with new members, he said. He is currently looking at a list of possible names, including CAUTION Macon members Scholl, Walker Rivers or Dan Fischer.

"They're concerned citizens," Ellis said. "I don't have a problem with any of them being on the oversight committee."

To contact Christopher Schwarzen, call 744-4213 or e-mail cschwarzen@macontel.com



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