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City votes no on consolidation

Council sends symbolic message to local state legislators

    Consolidation of city and county services suffered another setback Tuesday when the Statesboro city council decided in a divisive vote to send a message to local state legislators.
    In a motion floated by Councilman Will Britt during other business, the council voted 3-2 to express their lack of support for the idea of consolidation. Councilmen Travis Chance, Gary Lewis and Britt voted for the measure — and against consolidation —while Councilmen Tommy Blitch and Joe Brannen voted “No.”
    “In my mind, we sent a message pretty clearly to the county and to those individuals that continue to push Gary and Travis, that continue to manipulate the facts, and continue to tell the truth about why they want to consolidate,” Britt said. “We just need to wait until January. I'm sick of them not telling people the truth — they're not.”
    Britt said the group driving the consolidation movement — an unofficial committee formed by the Statesboro Bulloch Chamber of Commerce and headed up by Billy Hickman and Terry Reeves — is not revealing their true intentions.
    “They've been pushing relentlessly to approve consolidation,” Britt said during the motion's discussion period. “In my opinion, this is a group of wealthy white men who live in the county, who continuously push for consolidation.”
    Britt said the true goal of the consolidation committee is to dilute the minority vote and to dilute the suffrage movement over on Georgia Southern's campus.
    During the meeting, Brannen said he thinks looking at the consolidation study, which would be put together by the Carl Vinson Institute for Government at the University of Georgia, is the only way to determine if consolidation is right for Statesboro citizens.
    “I don't think anyone can make a decision at this time for or against consolidation,” Brannen said. “We would have to look at that study and see if it benefits the city, the county and the citizens of Statesboro with a better government, more efficient government while reducing the burden on the taxpayers.”
    Chance said he voted for the motion and against consolidation because the reasons for investigating the possibility of consolidation have been changed.
     “When we first started talking about consolidation, we were talking about saving the taxpayers money and about helping the government (run more efficiently) — basically making it about the people and about the employees,” Chance said. “With all the rumors and untruths that have floated around about (consolidation), somewhere along the line, those two things got lost.”
    Lewis said he made his decision after being approached by members of the consolidation committee as well as members of his church and community.    
    “I have to follow my constituents and I can't support (consolidation) right now,” Lewis said.
    Blitch voted against the measure because, despite the resistance to consolidation, he'd like to remain open to the possibility of a consolidation study.
    “I don't think we're moving forward with consolidation but I don't want to limit my options,” Blitch said.
       Mayor Bill Hatcher said he thinks it's a mistake to write off consolidation without first seeing the Vinson study
    “The proposal that we approved at one time then rescinded and people have asked council members to reconsider is not an endorsement of consolidation at all, but rather going forward with a study to look at the pros and cons for our community,” Hatcher said. “That's two different issues as far as I'm concerned.”
    Hatcher said, despite Tuesday's vote, the council could still come back and approve funding for a consolidation study.
    Britt conceded that the study of consolidation could continue to move forward but, as far as he's concerned, moving forward with consolidation is not in the best interest of the city or the council at this time.
    “My only hope is that the (state) politicians that represent us — Jon Burns, Bubba Parrish, Jack Hill and Bob Lane - I hope that they will realize that this is not supported by the majority of council,” Britt said.
    Even if a plan to consolidate were to make it through the Georgia state legislature, the issue of consolidation would still need public approval via a referendum. In order to pass this final hurdle, consolidation would need to be approved by a majority vote of both city residents and county residents.
    Phil Boyum may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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