The recent antics unfolding in Warner Robins may have some residents thinking their current and aspiring elected officials have devised sufficient strategies to upstage their political counterparts in neighboring Macon.
On one hand, there’s convicted felon John Williams wanting to run for a seat on the Warner Robins City Council. On the other, there’s a group of political wannabes challenging the residency of some others who wannabe holding a council seat. Of course, that doesn’t include the Kemp Harrison occurrence more than 60 years ago.
So before International City residents try grabbing the gaff trophy, they should remember that Macon has a long and glorious history of leaving political gadflies scratching their heads and wondering what the heck happened.
Who in Macon could forget former Macon Ronnie Thompson and his self-declared war on armed robbers? “Shoot to kill” was the mayoral decree when Thompson wanted to bring a rash of armed robberies to a quick halt. Put a bullet in the culprits, he said, and the crimes will stop.
In case that didn’t accomplish his objective, Thompson acquired a surplus military armored personnel carrier to thwart armed robberies and rush to head off unrest if rioters and looters took to the streets of Macon. The carrier became a showcase. It didn’t stop armed robberies, and it wasn’t needed to put down those non-existent rioters and looters.
Thompson was such a tough law-and-order person that he led the charge on an apartment complex where a suspected criminal was holed up. As the story goes, Thompson fired a machine gun in the apartment complex.
“It wasn’t a machine gun,” Thompson would say. “It was a carbine.”
Regardless of the caliber, the episode earned Thompson the nickname “Machine Gun Ronnie.”
Who in Macon could forget C. Jack Ellis, the retired U.S. Army paratrooper who became Macon’s first African American mayor?
In his mind, the mayor of a city was like the president of the United States. The president commands the armed forces. The mayor commands the Macon Police Department and when the mayoral commander spotted a driver breaking the posted speed limit, the mayoral commander pulled the guy over and gave the driver a ticket. That case was kicked out of court.
Remember the name Hakeem Mansour?
Ellis wasn’t one to discriminate against religious beliefs. So he began attending some Islam religious gatherings. During those services, Ellis learned how to wear Islam attire and participate in the services. He decided that a true Islamic believer needed an Islamic name. His name, Ellis said, would shift from Clarence Jack Ellis to Hakeem Mansour Ellis.
He didn’t get around to changing his name. But that proposed moniker - Hakeem Mansour Ellis - has a ring to it.
In 1975, there were five Macon detectives who were convicted on federal charges of taking bribes to protect illegal gambling and prostitution. One case was overturned on appeal, the other four detectives spent time in prison.
Moving forward to the recent Warner Robins shenanigans. Former Councilman John Williams wanted to serve on the city’s governing body again? Williams spent a year in federal prison after being convicted of extortion and obstruction by obtaining $1,720 not owed him as a commission on the sale of vehicle to the Warner Robins Police Department.
He withdrew from this year's race after learning convicted felons can’t hold public office unless they’ve been pardoned for their offenses. Williams hasn’t been pardoned.
However, the Williams incident wasn’t the first felony committed by a sitting Warner Robins official.
Kemp Harrison was elected mayor in 1956. He had a reputation as the man who got things done, especially when it came to raising money for his pet projects. In 1958, Harrison used $20,000 he’d borrowed in the name of the city for some personal expenses. Although he repaid the $20,000 within two weeks, he’d misappropriated funds and ended up in federal court.
Harrison was convicted and spent a year and a day in prison. The fact that he’d committed a federal crime didn’t deter Warner Robins voters. He was re-elected mayor while sitting in a jail cell.
For a youthful city, Warner Robins is off to a good start with unsavory happenings like the Harrison and Williams incidents. But Macon is rapidly approaching its 200th year. It’s endured more controversies than its upstart neighbor to the south.
Comparing the incidents to a lengthy foot race, Macon’s in full stride and leading the pack. Warner Robins is just getting warmed up.