The Reichert Years: Macon mayor reflects on 13 years in office
Robert Reichert says when he decided to run for mayor back in 2007, he saw a divided community heading downhill fast.
'We made a difference':
In less than two months, Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert will leave the office he has held for the past 13 years. During those years, many things have changed, especially in the downtown area.
The mayor said he likes what he sees when he looks out over downtown these days.
"This is the unique sense of place, this downtown that is so unique, so beautiful," said Reichert during a recent interview. "It attracts movie sets. It attracts people. It attracts millennials that want to live in lofts above what was formerly commercial space and go to a brew pub downtown and have craft beer."
But that wasn't what Reichert saw back in 2007 when he decided to run for mayor. He says he saw a divided community heading downhill fast.
"I felt the need to try and help my community. I was born here, grew up here, plan to die here at some point in the long-distance future. This is my home and I wanted to try to help."
Reichert won that election and has spent the past 13 years leading the place he loves.
"You've gotta be a cheerleader and an optimist," Reichert says.
One of Reichert's biggest accomplishments is guiding the city and county through consolidation, a process he called "a team effort."
"It was Sam Hart who said, 'Don't think city, don't think county, think community,'" said Reichert. "That key phrase led us to appreciate that we're all in this together."
The mayor says a consolidated Macon-Bibb stacks up well against other communities attracting big-name companies like Amazon, Tractor Supply, and Kumho Tire.
"We've always had a four-horse wagon. I mean, a wagon built to carry the load that required four horses to pull it, but our problem in the past was we hooked one horse to each wheel and wondered why the wagon wasn't going anywhere," remarked Mayor Reichert. "Now, we've been able to get everything in harness and the team pulling in one direction, and it's amazing the progress we've been able to make."
PHOTOS: Macon Mayor Robert Reichert's 13 years in office
When he walks the streets downtown, Reichert talks enthusiastically about a transformation started years ago by NewTown Macon.
"Developed the three principles that they were trying to employ to revitalize downtown Macon because it was as dead as a hammer at that period," remembered Reichert, "And they came up with more jobs downtown, more residents downtown, and creating a unique sense of place."
Reichert realizes Macon-Bibb has its share of problems like homelessness, crime, and unemployment, especially among young people ages 18 to 24. He also understands the world in which we live is changing and that people want a place at the table.
"Because this has got to be a community effort. It's got to be inclusive and this is part, Frank, of what's under the umbrella of 'Black Lives Matter.' It's not just about police and different treatments by police. It's about inclusion," added Reichert. "It's about equity. It's about building their fortune and fame, progressing up and moving up."
I asked the mayor what he hopes people will say about his time in office.
"They will think and say that we made a difference," said Mayor Reichert. "That we pulled the community together. We created an atmosphere where we appreciated and recognized the value of working together as opposed to working independently or separately, so I hope they they'll say we made a difference."
Mayor-elect Lester Miller will be sworn in as Reichert's replacement at the end of December.
Notable moments in the Reichert Years:
Mayor Reichert, 2 years later (November 18, 2009)
Half of Macon Mayor Robert Reichert's first term in office has passed. We take a look back at three major campaign issues and whether the mayor has delivered on his promises.
After taking office, annexation was first on the mayor's checklist. He called for nearly doubling Macon's size, adding about 13,000 people. His plan got a frosty reception when he held town hall meetings in Bibb County, but his fiercest opponents were in Jones County where 250 people showed up at one meeting. All of them were against annexation. The plan died before it even reached a vote.
"We hadn't been in office long enough to lay the groundwork to creating a viable city of Macon," Reichert said. "Give me another couple of years."
Another issue the mayor talked about in the campaign was improving and growing in-town neighborhoods. That includes the the College Hill Corridor where a group started by Mercer University students is helping revitalize the area. The improvements include walking and biking trails, beautifying public spaces, and bringing new businesses to Mercer Village. "We have been very pleased with some of the revitalization efforts in downtown," Reichert said.
As are other Macon officials, including NewTown Macon CEO Mike Ford. Ford says the mayor has been instrumental in getting the Main Street Designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Main Street effort brings a community focus to the downtown area and helps in applying for grants. "In our view, he's been a strong supporter of NewTown and accomplished many things under his watch," Ford said.
Another hot issue during Reichert's 2007 campaign was making the city financially fit. He said once in office he would switch the city to a purchase order system and get rid of department credit cards. According to the Mayor's Spokesman Andrew Blascovich, the city has not adopted a purchase order system, but shortly after taking office the city got rid of department credit cards in favor of what are called purchase cards, which have a strict spending limit. To get more money, departments have to go through the finance department. Reichert also was able to complete the city's annual budget audit on time for the first time in seven years, but the rest of the city's finances proved more challenging. "It's been frustrating for this administration, like many newly elected administrations, putting in place their plans proved more difficult than it is to talk about," City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said.
Also, the mayor hoped to build a reserve fund for the city. "We're making progress, but we have not been able to build the reserve to where we thought we'd be," Reichert said. Reichert admits that times have been difficult financially for the city because he took office shortly before the country's financial meltdown. "Who would have thought they'd pull the economic rug from under my feet?" Reichert said.
That's meant fewer tax dollars coming to the city. In response the mayor has worked toward gradually consolidating services with Bibb County over the next 10 years. That plan is currently before city council. Just last week, he announced a plan to reduce the city's workforce, laying off 31 people. Reichert calls this "right sizing" and says it will save the city $2.6 million a year.
Reichert: Time to plan for future growth (September 17, 2009)
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert says it's time to start planning for future growth in Central Georgia.
Thursday night, he hosted a presentation for community members about the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion.
It's a booming area of the country that stretches from Raleigh, North Carolina, south through Atlanta and west to Birmingham, Alabama, and included in the southern portion of the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion is Macon, Georgia.
Reichert says, "it means growth, it means opportunity, because along with growth comes businesses and industries that are looking to locate here."
He says with Macon on the map, it's time to start planning for those increases in population and development, which may include the possibility of a high speed rail connecting the region.
About 100 members from the community gathered with Reichert and County Commission Chairman Sam Hart to dine and discuss how to take advantage of the opportunities coming to the southeast.
Macon Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry says getting ahead of the growth curve is most important.
Cherry says, "if we're smart about it and we can get in front of that, then be very competitive as a region in going after new jobs and new investment which will help citizens here kind of take that next step up in the economic ladder which is beneficial to everybody."
Reichert agrees that preparing for the challenges will help Macon in the long run.
He says, "what we don't want to do is let the growth get ahead of us and destroy the way of life that we love and that makes us so special."
That's why he says it's time to talk today to plan for tomorrow.
Reichert says they need to plan how to protect natural resources, and make sure they have the educational resources and infrastructure to accommodate an increase in population.
There are ten identified megaregions in the country, with the Piedmont Atlantic Region being one of the fastest growing areas.
Reichert says experts predict there are about 34 million people living in the region and that number will increase by 70% by 2050.
In November, he will head to a conference on the topic in South Carolina with the mayors of several other cities involved.
Mayor Robert Reichert talks about the Lauren Giddings case (July 15, 2011)
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert talked to 13WMAZ about the investigation into Mercer Law graduate Lauren Giddings' homicide.
"This tragedy that befell Lauren Giddings is also a tragedy that has befallen our local community and our city at large," Reichert said. He said the Macon Police Department has been giving the Giddings case the amount of attention it deserves, given the facts of the case.
"Every homicide is different," Reichert said, "but every homicide is investigated appropriately for the level of difficulty that's going to be presented in solving the case -- 'Who did it?' 'How do we bring closure to the family?' Everyone is different, but everyone is treated appropriately. I'm confident of that."
Reichert and his family attended Giddings' memorial mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church on July 9. His daughter Bowen was friends with Giddings -- they were in the same class at Mercer Law School. He said she is learning to cope with the loss. "My daughter is continuing to study for the bar exam. While she's distracted and upset and this, that or the other, you kinda got to continue. Life goes on."
Reichert wins Democratic mayoral runoff (August 16, 2011)
Robert Reichert defeated C. Jack Ellis for the Democratic nomination, all but assuring himself a second term as Mayor. No Republican is on the November ballot.
Ellis conceded the race while Reichert was claiming victory.
"I'd like to congratulate Robert Reichert and his team on their victory and wish him well over the next four years as he guides the ship of our city," Ellis told supporters at his Hardeman Avenue headquarters, but he said Reichert should look "to the statement that was made. It was a very close race. He will have to say that 49 percent, almost half of the people in this city...." He was interrupted by chants of "We Love Jack!"
"This is a loud voice you have here, 49 percent of the people; that's a loud voice. So don't let your voice be silenced -- never, ever. Forwards ever, backwards never."
In an interview with 13WMAZ, Reichert was asked what he would like to say to Ellis supporters.
"My theme all along has been working together," Reichert said, "And I intend to continue to do exactly that -- to reach out to every area of this community and try to make positive change. Every neighborhood in this community needs to be a safe neighborhood. People need to be happy to live where they are and have pride in living where they live."
The primary runoff between the incumbent and his predecessor drew a turnout far higher than typical for a citywide runoff. Some 3,000 more votes were cast than on Primary Day four weeks ago. The 20,077 votes cast Tuesday amounted to a registered-voter turnout of close to 45 percent. Reichert noted that returns from two Vineville precincts put him over the top.
"We felt good" about the last two precincts to report in because, Reichert said, "that's where I grew up." His brother Stephen still lives in the family home on Calloway Drive. "Overall, the race was very close but we are thrilled to death and excited to have this victory. Hard-fought campaign but we're delighted with the result."
He said he's scheduled for his annual physical exam on the day after the runoff. He joked he'd be "gettin' ready physically for the next four years."
"But beyond that, we're going to start reaching out tomorrow to build the consensus that we need going forward for the next four years, to work together for progress for all of Macon."
David Cousino, the Republican candidate four years ago, says he is running as a write-in candidate in the November general election.
Reichert touts 'dynamic' economy at State of the Community event (February 7, 2015)
In his first ever State of the Community address Thursday, Mayor Robert Reichert told a large crowd how the newly consolidated county has fared and his vision for the future.
The event was hosted by the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.
"I am here today to announce that the state of our economy is dynamic," he told more than 200 business and community leaders at the Emerson Ballroom.
And while there's been growth, he says, there are still hurdles to jump.
"If a tree isn't growing, it's dying and the same goes for a community," he said.
From approving a $10 million bond to fight blight, developing the Second Street Corridor, and re-starting the Kumho Tire project, Reichert listed some of the county's latest victories.
He also talked about upgrades to the Amerson Water Park, a $53 million plan to connect Macon's airport to I-75 and uniting the community through education.
"Let's have smart sustainable growth and a community that's attractive and safe and that continues to support itself," he said.
But to do that, education is key, said State Senator John F. Kennedy.
"We've got to have an educated workforce to do the jobs that we want to bring to our area," Kennedy told 13WMAZ.
That's just one of many challenges still ahead.
Reichert says he's tackling how to attract more business and equalize pay among county employees. When the city of Macon and Bibb County merged, employees' salaries didn't adjust. That means some employees in the same position are making more than others.
That all comes at a cost. The county estimates it would take between $2-$4 million annually to mend the gap.
"We're having to go through a lot of expenses in this new government, and they're built in," Mayor Pro-Tem Bert Bivins said.
Moving forward gets harder, especially when the county's chained to mandated 20 percent budget cuts over five years.
"The pressure of those cuts may force you to do some things that you know isn't in the best interest of the community," Bivins said.
The county could be exempt from those cuts if six of nine commissioners agree there are extreme circumstances or public safety emergencies preventing them from meeting the mandate.
"In this particular situation, where we are poised for growth, where we need to address critical challenges, I think we can make the case," Reichert said, because what's at stake, he says, is a better, stronger Macon-Bibb.
The mayor says one of his next priorities is how to get rid of the estimated 4,000 dilapidated homes in the county.
He said that $10 million bond, approved by county commissioners but not yet issued, will help speed that up.
He also said he's focused on a quality, public education system that starts very early on.
"This is pre-Pre-K. So they start almost at birth to age 2 learning and working and speech patterns and everything else and all these different programs we need to be participating in," he said.
Current, former mayors differ on future of downtown statue (July 1, 2015)
Mayor Robert Reichert and former Mayor C. Jack Ellis differ on the future of downtown Macon's Confederate statue.
Former Mayor C. Jack Ellis says he wants the county to remove the Confederate statue at Cotton Avenue and Second Street in downtown Macon. He says the statue symbolizes racism and suffering that slaves endured before and during the civil war.
Mayor Robert Reichert says Confederate memorials in Macon aren't about racism, they're about supporting the military.
Ellis says he didn't try remove the statues during his eight years as mayor because the time wasn't right. He says now the time has come. He wants it removed from public property.
Reichert disagrees saying the monument is about the gallantry of soldiers, not slaves and racism.
"These memorials are to the individual soldiers, their effort and gallantry, courage and heroism, etc," Reichert said. "And to the women and children. There's a monument here at the top of Poplar Street to the women and children who endured so much."
The statue means more than that, Ellis says.
"It is dedicated to the Confederacy that existed from 1861 to 1865 when Macon lead the charge in the succession from the union," He said. "If you read the history as to how Macon, how ferocious they were - in leading the charge to secede - that's what this statue represents.
"The descendants of the Confederate soldiers have every right to commemorate them and to remember them in whatever way they want to," Ellis adds, "but we think it should be at a private museum or perhaps even the cemetery."
While the current mayor isn't planning action on the matter, he said the statue may come up for discussion with Bibb commissioners since Ellis raised the issue.
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