$2.7M tapped for Macon road repairs; commissioners raise concerns over new GBI anti-gang task force

Macon-Bibb Commissioners formally commended Mayor Lester Miller for the 500th demolition in the ongoing blight fight


The worst roads in Macon-Bibb County are about to get some attention as commissioners approved using $2.7 million from a GDOT grant and SPLOST funds for repairs.

Reeves Construction was awarded the contract for the deep patch asphalt repairs following a thorough study of county roads that resulted in the Miller administration and the commission devoting five times the amount of money historically allocated for such projects in the coming years.

GBI MOU draws debate

Also on Tuesday’s agenda, Commissioner Virgil Watkins initially balked at the Memorandum of Understanding with the GBI that cements the partnership to provide the county “castle” as a new location for the state agency’s Middle Georgia Anti-Gang Task Force.

A companion ordinance on the agenda provides up t0 $562,000 in SPLOST funds for the project, including an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 to renovate the stone fortress-like building that was once home to the  transportation department at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Oak Street.

“We’re putting up a lot of money for this,” Watkins said, as he questioned what the county actually will be receiving through this regional office serving 11 Middle Georgia counties.

Mayor Lester Miller said since the county owns the building, they would have had to spend money on it even if the GBI operation was not moving in. The exact price tag of the renovation is not yet known, and the building must be secured and a vault provided, he said.

Commissioners agreed to amend the SPLOST timeline and shift more than a half-million dollars in public safety funds slated for next year to cover renovation costs and future law enforcement needs.

Watkins said he would prefer it to be a “one-to-one” relationship with the GBI focusing on just Macon-Bibb County, not a “one-to-fifteen” other places when “we’re putting in 100 percent of the resources.”

Miller says Sheriff David Davis fully supports this plan that has been in the works for three years.

“They don’t do a task force for every single county in Georgia. This is the region,” Miller said.

Commissioner Bill Howell noted that “gangs don’t stop at county lines,” and thinks the regional approach is better to take on these organizations.

Mayor Pro Tem Seth Clark asked to be a co-sponsor of the MOU as he believes the partnership will significantly increase police presence in the community, which is something his constituents want.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas said she supports the MOU but wants to know “just how militarized our community is” with the sheriff’s office, code enforcement and anti-gang task force all carrying guns in a community where there are “more peace-loving people than there are criminals.”

Lucas lauded efforts to bring community organizations like the NAACP to last month’s news conference announcing the partnership, so that citizens’ rights can be protected.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Al Tillman also raised concerns that the GBI could undermine efforts by the Macon Violence Prevention Program by “coming in and harassing folks.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, both the MOU and the SPLOST funding passed unanimously.

Adding to the agenda

Commissioners also spent some time discussing the Miller administration’s process for adding items to the agenda.

Watkins wondered why Commissioner Paul Bronson’s proposal to set aside funding for Houston Avenue improvements was not on the agenda.

The mayor explained that any commissioner can add an item to an agenda with five votes from commissioners.

Miller said that before he was elected, he thought commissioners spent too much time debating issues that did not have enough votes to pass in a process that led to damaged relationships between elected officials.

Five commissioners voted to add the Houston Avenue proposal to the agenda, but since Lucas wanted to offer an amendment, the commission voted to table the matter for future discussion.

500th demolition brings praise for mayor

Commissioners presented Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller with a commemorative brick from the 500th demolition in the blight fight.

The commissioners also added another item to the agenda without the mayor’s input – recognizing Miller for the county’s blight fight that led to the 500th nuisance property demolition that morning in east Macon.

Lucas, the commission’s longest-serving member who is serving her final term, led the recognition ceremony and read the proclamation from the public podium in commission chambers.

“Standing over there this morning, I teared up at the idea of the progress we’re making as a community and how excited we are that it seems like we’ve been let loose and there’s just so much going on in this community,” Lucas said. “You can see it everywhere you go.”

Commissioners passed a resolution honoring Miller for the effort and presented him a ceremonial brick from that 500th demolition.

Clark mentioned the recent removals are on land the Urban Development Authority will deed over to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in support of a pending national park designation.

“Today was a special day,” Clark told Miller from the podium. “These blighted properties have drawn on the souls of our neighborhoods for too long, and the team you have put together in your administration… is getting something done that has been talked about for decades.”

Here are highlights from the debate captured in tweets sent during the meeting.

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