2020 Mayoral Candidate Interview: Larry Schlesinger

Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, along with 13WMAZ, The Telegraph and GPB all hosted each candidate running for Mayor of Macon Bibb County. Each were asked the same questions.

Larry Schlesinger

“How would you address violent crime?”
TRT: 3:49

Well, you know, I – we really need to fully fund the sheriff’s office. I’ve tried to do that during my tenure on both the Macon city council and the Macon-Bibb County Commission and I’ve voted always to fully fund the sheriff’s office. We need to put more boots on the street which means we need to make competitive salary part of the package that we offer new recruits. We need to make sure that our deputies that are on the street have all the equipment that they possibly need. And we need to do intervention and by that, I mean, we really need to invest in our youth. One of the things that I hope to do to fight crime is to set up an after school and a youth development council that will provide programming for the 80% of the time that our students are outside of their classrooms. We need to make sure that we decrease gun violence. We need to put technology in neighborhoods that when a gun-shot goes off, it’s immediately recorded by the sheriff’s office and deputies are dispatched. So we need to fight the violence that we see on the street from a number of different angles. And frankly, I do believe that by putting more boots on the street, we’ll be able to do that.
Well, besides the sheriff’s department, I think neighborhoods themselves could really be most active in reducing crime. I am very much pro, and I have visited a number of our neighborhood watch groups who are, active. The best thing that I believe that our citizens can do is form these neighborhood watch groups; attend the neighborhood group watch meetings. I mean, neighborhood watch groups are the way that good people of any neighborhood can take back control of their neighborhoods. So, that’s really in partnership with the sheriff’s office because my experience has been that at every neighborhood watch group there is an officer, a deputy, from the sheriff’s office in attendance. So, I really feel that the good people should not feel like they are being over whelmed. They need to band together, they need to take control and they need to cooperate with the sheriff’s office. I really believe that if we put more boots on the ground then every neighborhood, every citizen in every neighborhood could know who is the officer on the beat and someone that they can turn to. I think it’s a personal relationship thing that we’ve gotten away from. We’ve gotten away from it simply because we don’t have as many boots on the ground that we have had in the past. So I think the more boots on the ground, the more the deputies can come to know the people in the neighborhoods to which they patrol and the people in the neighborhood can come to know the deputies that are patrolling.

“What would you do to tackle blight?”
TRT: 3:24

In order to tackle blight, I think we really have to do two things. Number one, is we need to really strengthen code enforcement within the county itself. We have a code in place but a code is not a code unless you enforce it. And, frankly, part of their problem has been that our municipal court has been way, way, way, way, way too lenient with code violators. So, we really need to enforce code violations. Again, we need to put more code enforcement officers to work going through our neighborhoods, and issuing citations that really need to be taken seriously. You can’t just say that, well, we’re going to give you another 30 days or we’re going to give you another 30 days after that; we really need to incorporate from that angle. As far as renovating properties, which we need to do, I have a plan and I’ve talked with our tax Commissioner and with the land bank authority, just a preliminary discussion. What I would like to do is to get these properties that are not being rehabilitated into the hands of the land bank authority and the land bank authority get the properties into the hands of people, homeowners, that would put money into renovating, rehabilitating the properties. I would just like to get these properties back on the tax rolls. So, I would like to provide incentive to potential homeowners to take these properties and instead of putting a lot of money into the purchase price itself I would rather see them take that money and put it into the rehabilitation of the property of the structure itself. And I believe that the next areas of renovation in Macon-Bib County are going to be those contiguous to downtown, which means that it’s going to be Fort Hill. It’s going to be Pleasant Hill. And it’s going to be Tindal Heights area, simply because they are contiguous to downtown. Anybody who knows anything about economic development or redevelopment will tell you that it’s dark downtown as radiates out. It has started in downtown Macon-Bibb County. And now we’re getting to the radiating out part and you know, the Mill Hill project, which is across from the Marriott Hotel and the Coliseum, is indicative of the fact that we’ve jumped across the river and now we’re moving up the hill to Fort Hill itself.

“How would you prioritize spending to improve road conditions, safety and traffic?”
TRT: 4:09

Well, probably the most numerous complaint I get are about potholes in the street. I’ve complained about that. And I know that the mayor’s office has acted on that. We’ve had an awful lot of rain here recently that prevented the crews from going out and filling a lot of potholes. It also cause greater problems with the pothole because water is really what causes those problems. But, you know, we have a responsibility to the public to make sure that they can get from point A to point B safely. If our roads themselves aren’t safe, then we need to fix them. And so I would give them at a very high priority, I, you know, off and on, I’m driving down as a commissioner and I’m dodging potholes in the in the roads. So, you know, we have that responsibility. It’s a safety concern. We have to act on it.

Traffic itself, we we’ve got some problems with the construction on I16, I75. itself. You know, we just, we just need to make plans for the for the future. I think we know where the bottlenecks are. I think that once the construction is completed, that traffic problems will cease. But in the meantime, what the DOT (Department of Transportation) is doing Georgian DOT is doing, is they’re preparing for 30 years down the pipe, getting up from the Savannah port, all of the container traffic, through Macon as quickly as possible. This is this is not a project just for today, but for the next 30 years. And in terms of the county itself, our traffic engineer needs to be looking at how we’re going to deal with situations, particularly Bass Road. We’ve got to give those bottlenecks top priority and stop the traffic issues and then move on to the next. I think that’s sort of a good problem to have because it shows growth. But that good problem needs to be solved.

Well, you know, we need to provide lighting. I mean, that’s a way of fighting crime, too. So, we need to make sure that our roads, our neighborhoods are adequately lighted themselves; stretching out into the what used to be the unincorporated county. I think that the pedestrian safety board is doing a great job in identifying problems. I anticipate that we’re going to have a lot more people who are walking, especially in the downtown area, downtown has now become a neighborhood. I think we’re going to have bicycle traffic as well. People trying to get from point A to point B on a bicycle. That’s one of the ways that I get around downtown and I got around downtown before there were parking meters which is much easier to ride my bike from point A to point B and then chain it up to a streetlight or telephone pole. So, I think that modes of transportation are changing themselves. And we’ve just got to provide for the safety of people, no matter how they get from point A to point B.

“What can county government do to assist with improvements to the Bibb County school system?”
TRT: 1:46

I think that we can be supportive of the school board in everything that they do. And I would say that if there’s any way that the county can be supportive of the school board, then the school board should always feel free to contact us. Again, one of the things that I want to do is appoint a youth development and after school council, so that we on the county side can assemble all of the major partners in the community who are doing this already. And talk about providing activities and options that will compliment the school day that the children are in. And again, 80% of their time is spent outside of their classrooms. So, we really need to make sure that they have activities after class in every neighborhood. I’d like to talk to the faith community, about helping in this endeavor since we have faith institutions in just about every neighborhood, but we really have to do what we can to make sure that we keep students on the road to success, and that they don’t take a wrong turn along the way in that 80% of the time that they spend outside of class.

“Is there any county department you think is under or overstaffed and what changes would you make?”
TRT: 4:03

Well, I believe the county department that needs the most attention at this point is our business services department. Within the past few weeks, we have made some changes going to a safe build. We really need to make it easy to do business in Macon-Bibb County because economic development is really the future. I personally do not want to raise taxes, but in order to do that we have to continue on the path that we’ve been on. And that’s with you know, economic development, whether it’s on a mega level like, you know, Kumho, or Irving tissue or the other large corporations that we bring in, but really small business is the economic engine of this community. So, the Business Services Department. I met someone who was in town, this was a few years back. He was from Moe’s Southwestern restaurant and he was setting up a restaurant in Macon. And his next assignment was in Warner Robins. I saw him after he set it up in Warner Robins. His comment to me was that in Macon-Bibb County, he just had to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop after hoop. He went down to Warner Robins and boom, boom, boom; it was just done. I would like to make sure that here in Macon-Bibb county we go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom; we make it easy to do business here. We probably need some sort of a one stop shop that would enable a business owner or somebody who wants to set up a business here to be able to move quickly through the process. We want to make sure that when permits are filed, that they are acted upon in a very, very timely way. So I would say we want of all the departments, that’s the one that we want to pay the most attention to because our economic development, our economic future, depends on the speed at which we are able to help business owners and potential business owners to develop. I would also like to see the Chamber of Commerce, perhaps start some sort of a mentoring program for students who want to become business leaders, business owners as they move forward. Also for those who are out there who need help in starting a business. We tend to focus on the downtown area, but there are other areas that I think needs some help in order to be able to drive from a small business point of view.

At this point, I can’t I can’t think of a department that overstaffed. I will also say that when we’re dealing with understaffed, where we need to look at the sheriff’s office and get that; I would like to see the sheriff’s office overstaffed, to tell you the truth.

“What would you do to improve race relations in our community?”
TRT: 3:32

Well, it’s what I have been doing, really since I arrived n Macon. I feel that we’re a family. I don’t know that we recognize that we’re a family. I’ve basically spend an awful lot of time building relationships in all of our communities. We tend to think of Macon-Bibb county in the terms of black and white. But we really are much more diverse than that because we’ve got a large Indian community. We have got a large Korean community. We have got a large Latino community. And we have an awful large number of Islamic physicians within Macon-Bibb County and our region as well. And all these people need to be brought to the table. I went to an Indian feast. This was last fall. There’s a Hindu temple that down the street from the Anderson conference. There were like 5,000 people there at the festival. Now not all of them were from Macon-Bibb county. They were from their region, but that just gives you an idea of the size of the community itself. I think our next mayor really needs to be cognizant of the real diversity of this community and needs to have connections in all of those communities and needs to recognize that our diversity is our greatest strength and in order to really fulfill our destiny and to become the family that we are capable of being. We just need to support each other. We’re taping this as coronavirus pandemic now breaks. Right now, there are no known cases in Macon-Bibb County but there could be. I think how much of a family we are is going to be told by how much we are able during this crisis, to reach out to each other to help each other to make sure that the family stays as safe and healthy as it possibly can be. These are the times when; you know people tend to come together. And that’s what I intend to do on a daily basis. In Macon-Bibb County, I can tell you that in terms of you know, race relations or human relations, I will hit the ground on day one running simply because I have taken the time to develop relationships through community.