Commissioners want say on roads
Allen, Dorsey propose wresting control from program's exec committee
By Jennifer Plunkett & Randall Savage
The Macon Telegraph
T wo Bibb County commissioners want to abolish the county roads program's executive committee and have the County Commission take control of the Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Program.
Commissioners Joe Allen and Dennis Dorsey said each will present a plan to revamp the leadership of the $300 million program and dissolve the committee that makes final decisions on all 61 projects in the program.
"We've got to put aside personal agendas and egos and, quite frankly, arrogance," Dorsey said. "We've got to remember that (the sales-tax referendum) barely passed. Because of that, we should have made sure to maintain the integrity of the process from the start. Unfortunately, that hasn't occurred and that's got to be restored."
The plans will be introduced Tuesday at the commission's public works and engineering committee meeting.
The commissioners propose disbanding the five-member executive committee, which currently includes Commissioners Sam Hart and Larry Justice, Macon Mayor Jim Marshall, City Council President Willie Hill and state DOT representative Frank Pinkston. Justice and Pinkston have been singled out for criticism by neighborhood opponents of roads projects.
Allen's plan calls for the county's five commissioners to control the program. Dorsey confirmed that he'll present his plan Tuesday, but declined to give details.
Dorsey and Allen said they reached their decisions about the road program's leadership after hearing residents' concerns at a public meeting Saturday with state legislators.
Justice said Tuesday he wasn't aware that Allen and Dorsey were proposing to dismantle the executive committee.
"Joe (Allen) says one thing to one person and something else to another person," Justice said. "I'm just afraid that all these political shenanigans are going to cost us the whole road program."
Two votes of five will be needed in the public works committee in order to have the commission vote on the measure at its regular meeting. Three of five votes will be needed at the meeting to abolish the executive committee.
The swing votes could come from Hart or Commissioner Bert Bivins.
Hart said he is open to discussing plans to dissolve the committee, saying officials need to do something to alter the prevailing public perception of the program.
"I want to regenerate credibility of the current group or make changes that would let people know we're doing something," Hart said. "I haven't decided how to vote yet. We don't want to shoot ourselves in our feet. I'm all ears right now. We need to get back on track and develop some leadership and credibility for this program."
Bivins said he will need to be convinced to support abolishing the committee.
"It's not perfect," he said. "You have people on both sides who feel they understand roads and yet they don't work together and listen to each other to resolve the problems. I don't think it matters what you do if people aren't willing to work together."
Voters narrowly approved the issue in 1994, passing a one-cent sales tax to raise $300 million to improve county streets and roads.
The neighborhood group CAUTION Macon has campaigned for project changes to preserve trees, scenic roads and the character of neighborhoods, in particular in historic areas and Ingleside Village. The group claims projects in the current program are not the ones approved by voters.
The engineering firm Moreland Altobelli, which manages the program, and executive committee members have said they have worked hard to inform the community of projects and to solicit support for necessary improvements.
Under pressure from CAUTION Macon, the program hired Florida roads consultant Walter Kulash to consider neighborhood-friendly designs. The executive committee and Moreland Altobelli have given Kulash nearly a dozen projects to review.
Members have attended meetings, offered suggestions and submitted requests on projects throughout the process. One group of residents submitted an alternate plan for south Bibb County and Houston Road.
Putting the roads program in the hands of county commissioners, Justice said, would destroy the current arrangement that allows city and state officials to have direct input on projects.
That prospect concerns Marshall, who sits on the executive committee. He wants to ensure city officials have substantial say on projects that take place within the city.
"The city government is responsible for roads and road designs within the city limits," Marshall said. "The way (the executive committee) is set up right now is not necessarily a bad way. I've been a lone voice on the executive committee. I'd certainly like to see it headed in a different direction, but I'm not sure I support abolishing the executive committee."
CAUTION Macon founder and City Councilwoman Thelma Dillard, whose brother is Commissioner Bert Bivins, said there is no genuine concern for residents.
"Now is the time to put it back in the hands of the county," Dillard said. "County commissioners will give citizens a fair opportunity to be heard."
The public works and engineering committee is scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the commission board room on the fourth floor of the Bibb County Courthouse.