The newly consolidated Macon-Bibb County government is busy at work, but minus one commissioner.
Early voting is underway to fill the hotly contested District 2 commission seat.
The court ordered do-over is being held because of voting irregularities. Some voters received incorrect ballots in District 2.
It's the third time Henry Ficklin and Larry Schlesinger are campaigning for the post which will finally be settled after the January 14th election. In their last matchup in October Schlesinger beat Ficklin by just 27 votes.
Both say they hope the third time will be the charm.
This week both candidates stopped by our studios to talk about what’s at stake in their race for District 2.
Rabbi Schlesinger said he tells people the program that he initially signed up for was supposed to be over in July, but here we are in January. “This is an important election. We’ve got a new consolidated government in place and I certainly want to be a part of it. I supported consolidation, my opponent did not, so I think I’m the person to go in there and represent District 2.”
Fleming: Turnout can make or break a candidate. Turnout numbers were low during the election cycle of last year. Do you think District 2 voters will turn out for a third time?
Schlesinger: I think those people who are really concerned about Macon and Bibb County will go back to the polls. Certainly with this colder weather we may see a decrease, but it’s hard to tell. I think those people who recognize the gravity of this election will go back and cast their votes.
Fleming: During this race, your opponent brought up an ethics complaint against you and a former councilman Charles Jones. The 2011 complaint alleged that you and Mr. Jones conducted an illegal meeting to choose the council’s committees. Recently a mailer (by an anonymous source) went out to District 2 voters dredging up these allegations. What do you make of this?
Schlesinger: Desperate people do desperate things and the attorney general’s office looked into it and found that there was nothing to the complaint and has said that publically. So those people that continue to use it as something of a weapon are just basically telling lies.
Fleming:The race between you and your opponent has been rather contentious. During the race Mr. Ficklin has referred to the ethics complaint which was reviewed by state Attorney General Sam Olens, who determined there was no violation of the state's open meetings law, and suggested that you may have received preferential treatment from Sam Olens in the case because both you and Olens are Jewish. Ficklin is quoted as saying “I believe if I shared the faith with a priest of my faith that I’d be hard-pressed to take any kind of reprisals against them and would find some language that would excuse them.” What do you think of the statement?
Schlesinger: I think it was an unfortunate statement for Dr. Ficklin to make. The Attorney General’s office called it offensive, religious bigotry, and I would tend to agree.
Fleming: The race has been ugly at times, but you and Dr. Ficklin are literally neighbors. You share a fence. How will you mend fences so to speak?
Schlesinger: We’re both adults and this is not personal, it’s politics. Dr. Ficklin and I will continue to be friends. It’s just that political races tend to pit one of us against the other.
Reverend Henry Ficklin has a lot in common with his neighbor and friend. Both are religious leaders, both served as Macon city council members and both want to represent District 2.
Fleming: So, Reverend Ficklin, your opponent says he’s the right choice for the District 2 seat because he supported consolidation from the start whereas you did not. How do you respond to that?
Ficklin: Well, you know, I don’t think you have to be a supporter of consolidation from the start in order to be the right choice. I am the right choice because of my history in this community and the work that I’ve done and accomplished in this community. I did not support consolidation, but that’s over the bridge now and its nothing to squabble over. The people voted it in and I can work with it.
Fleming: During this race, a 2011 ethics complaint against your opponent and a former councilman Charles Jones was brought up. The complaint alleged that the two conducted an illegal meeting to choose the council’s committees. Recently a mailer went out to District 2 voters by an anonymous source, bringing up these allegations again. What do you make of that?
Ficklin: Whether it was an anonymous source or not, I don’t know who did the mailer, but people did ask me about it and I told them when I mail something I will have my name on it, as I’ve always been a person who is upfront about what I believe and what I think. Of course this was a violation of the law. The Attorney General did conclude that they did violate the law and he also sent down through council a document for them to sign, however they refused to sign it. But they had a clear violation of the law and that was not the only time that my opponent, who tags himself as being a uniter, has violated the law. You can ask those people who serve on the pension board how unified he has been there. They carried him to court also for an illegal meeting and judge Ennis ruled in their favor and they got attorney fees and all because the meeting was held illegally, and what actions were taken in that meeting were set aside by the judge because this was an illegal thing. This is what someone who calls himself a unifier has done.
Fleming: Sam Olens, the AG we’re referring to….didn’t he decide that there was no violation?
Ficklin: No. If he did then there is no written record of it. We only have a record of what he decided…that there was a violation and that he had given them a consent order for them to sign, and I can produce that, but the other is just hype and I saw that someone printed it in the paper, but there is no record of him saying that they did not violate anything….that is not true.
Fleming: I know the race has been contentious at times, but you and your opponent are literally neighbors and friends…
Ficklin: Yes, we are neighbors and friends. Our backyards touch each other, but see it’s the media hype, especially from the Telegraph and 13WMAZ. They like to get things that are going to draw attention to people and try to paint the picture that there is squabbling going on and hard feelings. But there are no hard feelings. I think they pressured my opponent into saying things that he said, and I called him that night and we discussed it and I told him that one of the reporters was trying to drag that out and I told him if there was anything he could do to make it stop he should because we do not need that kind of sentiment going on moving forward.
Fleming: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ficklin: Yes, I would like to ask people to brave the cold and the weather and hold higher your right to vote than anything else and please come out and vote for Henry Ficklin, commissioner for District 2. I am the right choice.
GPB Macon reached out to Attorney General Sam Olen’s Office who said they investigate about 400 of these types of ethics complaints a year. They voluntarily conducted an investigation into this 2011 complaint and found that no violation of the open government law occurred.
Early voting for the District 2 commission race ends on Friday. Voters go to the polls for this race on Tuesday, January 14th.