Mayor Miller on crime, surveillance cameras, improving roads, choosing elections supervisor and cherry blossoms

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers the public’s questions monthly through the Center for Collaborative Journalism. Send yours to [email protected].

The new surveillance camera system for downtown Macon is not designed to invade privacy but keep the public safe, Mayor Lester Miller said during the latest edition of Ask Mayor Miller. (Video 0:30)

“If you’re moving downtown to a business district for your residence, there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy on the public street. I think it’s different when you get into homes. You don’t want people to believe that you’re spying on them getting in and out of their car every day, maybe even laying out at the pool, cutting the grass. That’s not what these cameras are intended for,” Miller said.

The $700,000 multi-sensor dome system the sheriff requested and commissioners recently approved does not have to be monitored 24/7 to be effective, he said.

“Just like you don’t watch a Ring camera at home. If there’s an incident that happens at your house or something triggers it, then you know to go back and look at it and see what happens,” Miller said.

In response to a question about the nearly dozen homicides that occurred in the first two months of the year, Miller said his Macon Violence Prevention Program is set on long-range goals.

“It’s not going to solve the problems we have right now,” Miller said.

Many of the violent episodes are related, he said.

“Most of these folks, unfortunately, are out on bond, are out on probation, out on parole. And at least for the time being, I think the most immediate impact that you can have in a situation is to make sure that they’re safeguarded from those types of folks and they need to be in jail,” the mayor said.

The Shot Spotter gunfire detection system also is helping with response times and has been a “very effective tool,” Miller said.

“Again, it’s not a shot protector that’s protecting people from getting shot. It gives us more intel,” Miller said.

Elections supervisor selection

Miller supports pending legislation at the Georgia General Assembly clarifying that the county’s governing body, which is the mayor and commission, has the responsibility to select and appoint an elections supervisor. (Video 9:10)

Macon-Bibb County has been without an elections supervisor for more than a year which led to the Board of Elections suing Miller and commissioners over Miller’s proposed selection committee after the county rejected the board’s first nominee.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. John Kennedy, cited a Georgia Supreme Court decision prohibiting private organizations from issuing appointments to government boards.

“Our primary goal is we just want the best qualified person that we can have to be the elections superintendent, the elections supervisor there,” Miller said.

Affordable Housing

The newly created Macon-Bibb County Affordable Housing Board has met several times since its inception in January, Miller said. (Video 12:25)

County Commissioners allocated up to $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide low-interest loans for developers building affordable housing and residents who need to make repairs.

“We expect in the next 60, 90 days to have some of that money going out to the public,” Miller said. “That’s going to be… both new housing and rehabs. We’re trying to infill a lot of these houses where we’ve been able to tear down almost 470 right now. At the same time, give people an opportunity to borrow less, low-interest money to rehab homes that are blighted so we don’t have to tear them down in the future.”

Roads and pedestrian safety

Mayor Miller explained that he is increasing spending on road repairs fivefold over the next few years to reach more of the county’s worst streets. (Video 14:45)

While county leaders are continuing to meet with the Georgia Department of Transportation at least quarterly, several major road projects are still years into the future.

Plans are in place for roundabouts on Mercer University Drive, pedestrian safety improvements on Eisenhower Pkwy and widening of Forest Hill and Bass Roads.

“A lot of times you approve the plans but the funding won’t come for several years. I think that’s what a lot of people, they start hearing about the plan and something’s going to be done and they think it’s going to happen now when really the money won’t be there for several years,” Miller said.

He also plans revamp the Pedestrian Safety Review Board, which was formed to look at each pedestrian fatality and determine the factors involved to better plan safety improvements.

“Most of the average folks, it’s outside their expertise,” he said. It’s not their job to look at a hit-and-run and determine what happened, or who’s at fault or, you know, those kinds of things. So, I think the mission has changed. They’re more of an advocacy group.”

In responding to a complaint about the condition of Walnut Street from the railroad trestle to Carolyn Crayton Park, Miller said improvements are at least a year away after completion of the Central City Apartments affordable housing project next to Daybreak, a daytime facility for those who are homeless.

“I suspect after you get through with the project you have there at Daybreak, the new wonderful housing we have there at the entrance to Carolyn Crayton Park, that you’ll see some funds are allocated there to improve the area,” Miller said. “The last thing to do is put a new road in while we’ve got trucks coming in and and out there.”

Cherry blossoms

With the upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival, which will draw a delegation from Macon-Bibb’s sister city of Kurobe, Japan, (Video 22:15) the mayor said there is a plan to maintain the county’s famed tree canopy since many trees that were planted decades ago are dying or diseased. 

“I think we’re getting just as many out to the public that we’re losing. So, I wouldn’t worry about any indication that we’re going to not be the ‘Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.’ Still going to have thousands and thousands of trees here and they’re going to be beautiful as ever.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.