The election of local government officials in the Special Nonpartisan Runoff happens Oct. 15, electing the new consolidated government of Bibb county and Macon city commissioners and mayor.
With impending elections, Mercer students’ level of participation is being called upon from those officials.
Adah Roberts, county commissioner candidate for District 6 and previously the finance director for the city of Macon, said, “This is [students’] home when [they] are in school. What happens here affects [their] lives one way or the other: what we have for recreation and for culture.” She continued, “We would like to influence [them] to make this [their] home after they finish college. Students should have say in what goes on in the few years they are here and hopefully, for the future.”
Additionally, Rabbi Larry Schlesinger, county commissioner candidate for District 2 and Rabbi for Temple Beth Israel located in downtown Macon, said, “Whatever time the students are here, they should consider themselves residents of Macon and vote in local elections. If [students] see [themselves] as a part of this community, then [they] will have the same [political voice] as anybody else.” He continued, saying, “It depends on whether the students see Macon as a four-year college or whether they see it as a home for the four years they are students here. If they consider Macon a home, they will probably take a more active interest and be more involved in what is going on here locally.”
Henry C. Ficklin, also county commissioner candidate for District 2 and Mercer graduate, said, “I think that those students from Mercer who are residents of Macon, or choose to become residents while they are here, it can have a great impact in Macon local politics. They are at the seat of high learning in Macon, and I think that can have an impact on the turnout of issues surrounding them.” He went on to say, “I think that those students who are registered to vote will get involved in the politics and in the political discussions. I think if they could vote, they could really help to change some things.”
These three local candidates agreed that a way for Mercer student’s involvement, beyond voting, was internships.
Roberts said, “I would like to mentor young people. I don’t think enough young people get involved in the politics. We need to introduce younger people to it. It’s a way of life. It’s something we should do to prepare our young people for the future. [Internships] are something that we can promote.”
Although, according to Schlesinger, the Macon-Bibb government is primarily elected officials and city and county employees, “We have a lot of issues that I think Mercer students that basically brought to our attention and championed: One was human trafficking.” He said, “I’d like to see this new consolidated government form some type of internship program. I think we could easily develop something like that.”
Ficklin said, “I really think that there are a lot of opportunities for internships, especially with the linked local government. Interns would be a great thing to have.”
Roberts said, “I think that [attending political public meetings] would be an invaluable experience. I hope that students would get involved and vote.” However, she addressed students specifically saying, “Don’t vote ignorantly. Stay in tune to what is going on in the area around.”
Schlesinger said, “Mercer students need to recognize that we have all the makings of a larger city. I think Macon offers graduates of Mercer the opportunity to really become grounded and rooted in the city itself and spend not just four years of college here, but really a lifetime.”
Ficklin called upon students saying, “I think that they need to get involved and be in tune with what’s going on because even if they do not choose to live in Macon, wherever they go, the political structure is similar and the issues are going to be similar. The more they get involved, the more they will learn, perhaps, that they need to help when they go back home.” He continued, “We need intelligent and informed youth involved in the political process, all over this county and all over this state. It cannot be anything but a plus if youth were to get involved.”
Specifically speaking about consolidation, Roberts said, “[Consolidation] is a unique opportunity for students to understand what happens when a government consolidates.”
Schlesinger addressed consolidation as well saying, “So what we’re looking to do it just streamline our efforts and redefine the way we govern ourselves: instead of two bodies, one for the city one for the unincorporated county, we will have one for everybody. We’ve got to think regionally as a consolidated government. It’s not just Macon-Bibb but the [surrounding] counties.” He connecting Mercer students to the issue by saying, “I think the big question is: what can Mercer students offer the city of Macon? I’m not sure that everybody in town appreciates just what an economic engine Mercer University is for the city.”
Ficklin, who stated he was “not supportive of [consolidation]” but that he “would love to see work,” said, “Consolidation means for Mercer students that the government is in one piece now. It does not give them an example of what government should really be with checks and balances.”
The recent consolidation efforts and its effects as well as upcoming elections allow for a window of opportunity for Mercer students to get involved. According to Schlesinger, “We’re partners basically and we both need to help each other in order to thrive.”