2023 Preview – Part 4: Board of Elections stalemate, downtown improvements, Chamber move, Farmers Market conflict, celebrating Macon’s 200 years

The Macon Newsroom has compiled 20 things to look for in 2023 in a 4-part series that will be published this week


Liz Fabian

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections awaits a judge’s ruling on their lawsuit against Mayor Lester Miller and county commissioners over the elections supervisor selection process.

16) Board of Elections in stalemate with county over supervisor selection 

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections enters 2023 without a permanent elections supervisor in place and a lawsuit pending against Mayor Lester Miller and county commissioners over the selection process. 

Last January, Jeanetta Watson tendered her resignation citing the high-stress political atmosphere and additional workload associated with election law changes.

The board tapped elections officer Tom Gillon as interim supervisor and named former elections worker Canetra Ford as a candidate. 

After perceived partisan social media posts surfaced on accounts allegedly used by Ford, Miller and commissioners did not put up Ford for a vote. 

Miller planned to form a bipartisan selection committee of two county commissioners and at least two members of the board of elections. 

Although the board originally agreed to be part of the committee, after Miller told The Macon Newsroom he was not obligated to include board members, they instead filed a lawsuit alleging the county government was trying to usurp their responsibility to select a candidate to be submitted to the governing authority for approval. 

The board later submitted Gillon’s name, but Miller has indicated he has no plans to accept a nomination as long as the suit is pending. 

Elections Board Chair Mike Kaplan has said that Gillon has done an excellent job in the interim post and the board has no plans to drop its suit.

“It’s a stalemate, waiting for the judge,” Kaplan said following the board’s December meeting.

The county filed a motion to dismiss the suit, but the judge has not ruled on that, or the board’s request for a preliminary injunction to block formation of the mayor’s suggested committee.

17) Downtown Business Improvement District plans park, expanding mission

The Downtown Business Improvement District marks a milestone this summer as the first six-year term of the self-taxing district ends at the end of June. 

In 2017, business owners agreed to pay extra property taxes to create a cleaner, greener and safer downtown district.

BID pays for downtown ambassadors who sweep the streets of litter and are handling an increasing amount of pet waste that is causing health and safety concerns.

During its December meeting, the seven-member board that forges  NewTown Macon’s vision for a better city discussed strengthening the county ordinance and fines for people who do not pick up after their pets. 

NewTown’s Erin Keller will consult with county attorneys to see what legally can be done to encourage compliance.

Board members already have commitments to renew the downtown BID for another six-year term so that its work can continue. 

As plans move forward for the Central City Commons development off Poplar Street and the Crescent Corners apartment complex at Second and Plum streets, the BID expects to increase its boundaries in anticipation of future growth outside of the central business core. 

The extra tax revenue and coordinated grant requests fund beautification projects such as the lighting of alleyways and enhancing downtown’s public spaces. Additional lighting is expected to be installed in the first quarter of the new year.

BID also is currently working on plans for a new kid-friendly park along Third Street between Cherry and Poplar streets.

18) Chamber of Commerce on the move 

The Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce is moving to the old Historic Macon Foundation location at 338 Poplar St. (Liz Fabian)

The Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce not only begins the new year with new president and executive officer Jessica Walden at the helm, but in a new location. 

At the close of 2022, new offices were being designed in the old Historic Macon Foundation location at 338 Poplar Street. 

The chamber was supposed to move in mid-2022, but delayed the relocation to allow movie makers to rent the space while filming “Possum Trot” during the fall. 

Walden, who bested more than 50 applicants and many qualified candidates for the job of chamber president, said the downtown office is strategically placed to grow partnerships. 

“The Chamber will have a prominent role in a welcoming district into downtown, with strong partnerships with our neighbors at Visit Macon, NewTown Macon, the downtown museum district, the Macon Transit Authority at the Terminal Station, and of course, the district’s small businesses,” Walden said in an email to The Macon Newsroom. “Being a part of the downtown community allows more opportunities to leverage our resources, space and connection the chamber provides.”

Of the 800 chamber members, or investors as Walden prefers to call them, 82 businesses identify as women-owned and 91 are minority-owned, Walden said. 

“As we move into our next phase, those numbers will be targeted to increase,” she said. 

The chamber’s interactive workforce development platform continues to be an important part of the mission with the rebranded website greatercareerworks.com that brings together job seekers and employers and helps train future workers. 

Walden also will make it a priority to increase business participation in the Chamber of Commerce. 

The chamber’s old 1974 building on the outskirts of the Macon Coliseum parking lot is expected to be razed as the Georgia Department of Transportation continues work on the Second Street Bridge overpass and the new Interstate 16 exit and entrance ramps under construction, she said.

19) Will Macon have a Wednesday farmers market in 2023?

It appears a monthslong kerfuffle over management of a Wednesday farmer’s market in Macon will continue in 2023.

The Mulberry Market, a midweek event in Tattnall Square Park since 2014, has been on hold since August amid a legal battle between two organizations that both say increasing food access is their mission.

Farmers who depend on the midweek market for their

Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting

livelihoods are not parties to the lawsuit and continue showing up at the same time and place to sell their harvest.

Community Health Works, a nonprofit that had managed the market for more than a decade, filed a lawsuit and temporary protective order in late August against the newly formed Napier Heights Food Co-Op alleging trademark infringement and tortious interference.

The legal situation has resulted in neither Community Health Works or the co-op managing a Wednesday market in the park. The co-op has since started a new market in the park on Thursdays.

In October, a band of about a dozen farmers who make up the Middle Georgia Growers Co-Op announced to customers it had cut ties with both organizations. The growers co-op has been working to garner support and plans to approach the Macon-Bibb County Commission about creating a new producers-only farmers market somewhere downtown.

20) What will the 2023 Bicentennial Celebration bring?

The new year brings the 200th anniversary of Macon’s founding and a slew of events celebrating the city’s history.

Macon-Bibb County appointed 23 people from diverse backgrounds and professions to coordinate the yearlong Bicentennial Celebration that will feature history lectures, art exhibits and musical performances.

While the City Auditorium was built in honor of Macon’s Centennial, a signature initiative of the 200th year will be the creation of Bicentennial Park near the Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village at Clinton and Main streets. The park will be constructed in conjunction with the expansion of Ocmulgee Mounds National Park and its new entrance, and a nearby Native American interpretive center expected to be housed in the old Dewitt McCrary house recently saved from the wrecking ball by Historic Macon Foundation and the Urban Development Authority. 

The initial Bicentennial Park plan calls for indigenous and local art, a history walk and meditative garden. 

Multiple cultural events will be held throughout the year and businesses and organizations are encouraged to celebrate the Bicentennial in their own way. 

A musical showcase of Macon’s music history also is planned for a finale in the county’s new amphitheater going up next year at Macon Mall.  

Another of the celebration’s capstone events is expected to be the second Mayor’s Sneaker Ball, which is set for Nov. 17, 2023. 

Civil rights historian Dr. Thomas Duvall welcomed the news that another ball is planned after the success of the first.

“That ball was the epitome and personification of the ‘beloved community,’ and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Duvall said. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. popularized the ‘beloved community’ concept whereby adversaries are reconciled in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.”

Mayor Lester Miller used the inaugural ball Dec. 9 to unveil the celebration’s logo, which features a flame to represent the fire the Muscogee (Creek) Nation carried on the Trail of Tears to its new home in Oklahoma and the internal fire that burns in Maconites to make the community a better place.  

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-302-2976. Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley reports on education, health and public safety and may be contacted at [email protected] or 478-301-5777.