On Monday, August 21st the Robins Regional Chamber addressed the Warner Robins City Council on the issues of the city administrator and the general lack of public input in decision-making. Chamber Board Chairman Michael Chalmers opened up the presentation by sharing the Chamber’s mission and how the organization has addressed some of the issues council is facing in recent years.

CHALMERS:  “The mission of the Robins Regional Chamber is to promote the business interest of our members through advocacy, building partnership and education. Representing nearly 800 businesses in and around Warner Robins, the manner in which the City of Warner Robins does business is vitally important to our members as businesses and residents of the city.

Over the past several years our organization has taken great strides to look introspectively to identify ways to improve our operations. We recognized that the way we had done business for the past 60 years was not only no longer relevant, it was killing our ability to the effective organization we knew we had to be in order to stay in business. We shored up our finances, streamlined our communication, began engaging with our members on their terms, their platforms about the things they cared about and then they began to listen when we had issues we needed to address. We have begun taking a more active role in advocacy initiatives through our support of Robins Air Force Base, our state and federal legislative agendas, taking positions on issues concerning business at all levels of government and participation at the local level in city, county and development partner meetings and planning.

We enjoy our relationships with our community partners working to create an environment for business and economic success.”

He then thanked council for their time and service and turned the program over to Chamber President & CEO April Bragg for the remainder of the presentation.  Bragg reiterated Chalmers’ remarks to council, thanking them for their commitment to represent the citizens of Warner Robins.

BRAGG: “Representative democracy can only work when citizens are well informed and actively engaged in voting and other civic activity. Yet voting and many other forms of civic participation are in decline across the country today. But why?”

“Many obstacles have been shown to affect people’s willingness and ability to be politically and civically involved.  Most obviously, social media has made far more information available to greater numbers of people than could ever be reached before. That said, it has in many ways replaced credible news sources for many American.  And of course we know that if it’s on Facebook, it must be true. Social media can be a wonderful tool when used properly.”

“Everyday citizens just like many businesses today are doing more with less and living busier lives that ever, so for the average citizen trying to make a city council, county commission or board of education meeting even once a month on top of soccer, piano lessons, dance, church, PTA and other obligations just seems like something we can let somebody else worry about. Maybe they’ll be able to read the highlights in the news. But for those of us who attend regularly, we know that isn’t always the case either. What sells media today isn’t always about what was most positive or deliberative or collaborative, but rather what got the room stirring.”

“Furthermore, what happens in a council meeting is often perceived to happen in a bubble. Other than commenting on a Facebook post here or there, citizens don’t have a user-friendly way to access the full content of the meetings and a way to provide feedback or questions. This is something that can be remedied and can greatly improve engagement and civic participation.”

“In recent months there has been much discussion about our how the city is run – from budget challenges to our form of government, most consistently discussion around the creation of the position of city administrator. There is no denying that a city our size that has experienced the kind of growth we have over the past several years should expect the need to examine how we do business and evaluate what will provide the most support for our city in the future. That said, it must not be forgotten that the involvement of citizens in the political process is an essential part of democracy; and to that point, the Robins Regional Chamber Board of Directors is requesting for mayor and council to solicit opinions from the citizens on the form of government for our City – whether that be in the form of our current structure, the creation of a city administrator or other more formal structural changes. Voter opinions can be obtained through an advisory, non-binding referendum held in conjunction with the City’s general municipal election on November 7, 2017.”

“The Chamber supports endeavors to promote transparency, citizen engagement and informed voting. To this end, we will commit our organization to hold forums and provide educational resources about how local governments operate so that the people that call Warner Robins home can make an informed decision in providing their input back to Mayor and Council on the ballot in November. We urge you to actively involve the community in these all-too important decisions that can shape the future of our community.”

Upon concluding, there were no questions or comments from council. Mayor Toms thanked the Chamber for coming to speak. During the regular council meeting following the presentation, the Council voted 4-1-1 to approve the creation of the position of City Administrator.