During an August 2012 event to celebrate Macon-Bibb, Georgia, joining the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, Robert Reichert, then Macon City's mayor, put forward a vision for a more cohesive community that would attract opportunities, enhance quality of life, promote pride and inspire hope. Nearly three years later Reichert is seeing much of that vision come to life.
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Having grown up in Macon, Reichert looks back and realizes the foresight of the original city planners. Their efforts provided the wide streets and sidewalks grid that allows for the bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly community Macon-Bibb is becoming.
A lawyer by training, Reichert served on the Macon City Council for five years and in the Georgia House of Representatives for a decade. In 2007 and again in 2011 he was elected as the mayor of Macon. Two years later, in the fall of 2013, he was elected as the first mayor of Macon-Bibb, a community created by consolidating the governments of the city of Macon and Bibb County.
Centrally located about an hour southeast of Atlanta, Macon-Bibb contains both a metropolitan area (Macon) and outlying, more rural neighborhoods throughout Bibb County. In 2012, citizens age 60 and older made up approximately 19 percent of the Macon-Bibb population (which, according to the 2010 Census, consists of about 155,500 people, 91,000 of whom are located within the Macon city limits).
1. In July 2012 the residents of the city of Macon and Bibb County voted to consolidate the two municipalities into one effective on January 1, 2014. Why was that decision made? How has it benefited the community? And how were you, as Macon’s mayor, and Samuel F. Hart, as the elected chairman of the Bibb County Commission, able to work together knowing that with the consolidation one of you would be losing your community leadership position?
Let me start with the second part. Chairman Hart and I realized it was important for our community to move into the future and to move forward together. We both knew we couldn't continue to have a divided community: city versus the county, the county’s additional taxes for fire protection, unfair taxes without accompanying services, double taxation and everything else that went with it.
We realized that if we didn't work together, our community was not going to be successful … and that was our ultimate goal. Regardless of whether one or the other or both of us lost our job in the process — because we didn't know who was going to be elected and it could have been someone completely different — we recognized the future of our community was more important.
To address the first part of the question: We sold the community on the fact that we needed to be a more effective government, a more efficient government and a more equitably financed government.
If we are in competition with other cities across the southeast and across the nation — and even around the world — to attract jobs, industry, population and tax base, we need a united front and need to work together. Also, we got to a point in this community where the fear of the unknown was outweighed by the fear of the known. We knew that what we had wasn't working and that we'd have to move into a different format.
Consolidation seemed and has proven to be the right ticket. There's a sense of optimism, encouragement and enthusiasm that's been absent in the community for decades.
2. Macon-Bibb County was the first community to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities when it launched in April 2012. What was it that made you and your colleagues believe Macon-Bibb and the AARP network would be a good fit? Also, what can residents expect to see happening over the next few years, and what is Macon-Bibb doing to ensure that age-friendly principles for people of all ages will be imbedded into the city's daily decision making and operations?
We thought it would be a mutually beneficial relationship. First and foremost, we felt membership could guide and direct us in building a community that would be friendly and attractive to people of all ages. We were already in the process trying to build a more walkable urban area and felt this would give us additional insight and benefit.
Secondly, we felt it would be beneficial to work with AARP because Macon-Bibb already had strong initiatives in the works that could be fine-tuned to reflect some of the age-friendly goals and objectives. And perhaps most importantly, membership would be important to citizens and prospective citizens looking for a place to live and have an attractive quality of life.
We've completed our Age-Friendly Community Action Plan and are now in the implementation phase.
We're trying to work closely with AARP and the advisory committee so our physical infrastructure improvements meet the guidelines of being age-friendly. We're trying to ensure that directional signage for driving is easier to follow. We're trying to provide housing options that are attractive so whether someone is young and single or is a retired empty nester a person can find a housing option that is suitable and attractive. We're trying to create a more vibrant environment for seniors and have them feel they're a welcome part of the fabric of the community. We're trying to incorporate them into some of the leadership roles so people feel included and have input and influence over the community in which they live.