Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Ask Mayor Miller: Downtown killing prompts emergency meeting, pension problems, Macon Mall update

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers the public’s questions each month through the Center for Collaborative Journalism
Send your questions for the monthly taping of Ask Mayor Miller to [email protected].

Hours after 30-year-old Robert Evans was fatally wounded early Sunday outside bars on MLK Jr. Blvd., Mayor Lester Miller convened an impromptu meeting after church at City Hall. About 20 people attended including Sheriff David Davis, District Attorney Anita Howard, a county attorney, code enforcement and downtown representatives, he said.

Once the Macon-Bibb County Commission reconvenes after Labor Day, Miller will have proposed law changes aimed at preventing people from congregating on the streets after bars close, Miller said during this month’s Ask Mayor Miller program. (Discussion begins 0:24 into video.)

“We have to be bold and take aggressive steps to make sure that we take care of the issues we’re supposed to,” Miller said. “Look forward to some new things coming down the pipe in the very near future, some changes to some ordinance where we’ll have a hard, fast closure downtown at a certain time, no questions asked. And there’ll be nobody on the sidewalks walking around late at night.”

Cameras captured dozens of people standing on the sidewalk before the fatal 3:45 a.m. Aug.20 shooting near Poplar Street.

In the weekend’s other homicide at about 3 a.m. Aug. 19, Calvin Thomas Hugley was shot dead outside what the sheriff’s office described as a “bootleg” operation in the 800 block of Woodard Avenue near Carnation Street in Unionville.

“If you’re at a bootleg house at three or four in the morning and you get into an altercation after getting intoxicated, you may get shot, right? So, it’s one of those things where the average person is sitting at home, doing what they’re supposed to do and has nothing to worry about,” Miller said.

Prior to Saturday morning’s death, Macon-Bibb County had gone about a month without a homicide, which Miller said he found encouraging.

The mayor also discussed the recent changes to special event permitting regulations to close a loophole that allowed some downtown bars to operate without an alcohol license and thereby circumvent safety regulations. (3:20)

The mayor also explained a somewhat recent policy that bans alcohol licenses for convenience stores that don’t sell fuel or specified quantities of fresh food and vegetables. (7:25)

This month, M&M Grocery was denied an alcohol license renewal due to the high incidence of criminal activity at the store on Montpelier Avenue in Unionville. (5:55)

“I think the place needs to be torn down, honestly. I think it’s an attractive nuisance,” Miller said. “I think the evidence is overwhelming that that place was not operating properly, attracted certain folks there, and they did nothing to protect the people in that community.”

Miller said he hopes the judge closes the store permanently in the final hearing in the case.

Macon Mall ribbon cutting, pension problems

Macon-Bibb County soon will be scheduling a ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of the first set of new offices and the courthouse annex at Macon Mall. (13:30)

Miller said the furniture for the two auxiliary courtrooms has arrived and that portion of the mall project is complete.

The Bibb County Board of Elections also is up and running in the old Sears location underneath Burlington.

Next on the completion list is the new “picklemall” with 32 pickleball courts in the old Belk department store, that is billed as one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world.

Miller said he expects the pickle ball courts to be finished and ready for tournament play in November. Two other tournaments are already on the books after the first of the year, Miller said.

In phase two of the construction, new offices for Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning, Building and Fire Safety department, the Mayor’s Literary Alliance, and an additional library branch are scheduled to be finished by February 1, he said.

The Middle Georgia Regional Commission, additional event space and meeting rooms are expected to be completed by summer.  The amphitheater should be complete in four to five months with the first concert planned for March.

The mayor also addressed county retiree Barry Smallwood’s question about alleged pension miscalculations first reported by The Macon Newsroom in 2020. (16:55)

Although a probe was launched the following year, and pension administrative duties were outsourced to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, retirees are waiting to hear results from the review.

“Three years is long enough,” Smallwood wrote to the CCJ.

While Miller said it would be inappropriate to discuss Smallwood’s circumstances, he did say some adjustments are likely, but it won’t necessarily mean those retirees who are affected are owed any additional benefits. The reverse could be true.

“Unfortunately, when you open up a can of worms, you have to be careful what you ask for because somebody may want to have their pension looked at and realize they’ve been getting 40, 50 dollars a pay period more money than they’re supposed to. And, guess what, they’ve got to pay that money back. So, I think I’d be careful about what I ask for,” Miller cautioned.

A “very, very small percentage” of retirees are affected, and the attorneys are working through the process, Miller said.

“But you don’t want to misstate the facts until we know all the other issues behind it. We did have an outdated system before, and it’s been a challenge to make sure we bring everything forward the way it’s supposed to be in today’s technology world.”

Miller said he thinks that the county has the “right people in the right place, doing the things that they need to do.”

He anticipated having a better response in the very near future and bring final resolution for those retirees affected.

Miller also said all the county’s pension funds “are in great shape.”

The mayor also shared thoughts on the operation of the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission (10:45) and answered the public’s questions about installing more bike lanes, overgrown rights of way (21:41), unhoused people hanging out under the Spring Street overpass of Interstate 16 and leaving litter behind (20:35), and development prospects in downtown and out on Presidential Parkway (14:42).

Send your questions for Ask Mayor Miller to [email protected] and we’ll get some answers at the end of September.

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

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