2020 Mayoral Candidate Interview: Cliffard Whitby

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.

“How would you address violent crime?”
TRT 4:31
Oh my goodness. Violent crime is an issue that occupies so much of our team time, as we have discussions with the stakeholders in this community. We’ve endorsed now I think right at around 75 to 80 clergy members in these very communities that are disproportionately impacted by the violent crimes. So one of the things that I think would be vital is if this community come together and really began to get intentional about what it’s gonna take to address youth violence. What is driving the youth violence? And I think it’s really, very simple. These young people do not have the opportunities that they need to pursue certain aspects of life and the opportunities to go on and further their education and pursue their dreams. I think it’s gonna take a significant amount of resources that’s devoted to our youth and training and retraining and actually being committed to supporting families. If we support the families of these young people. Some of these parents are working two, three jobs and we’re dealing with children raising children. This community must get serious about the issues that really impact these young people lives and getting involved.

“What would you do to tackle the blight?”
TRT 5:02
You know, I’ve been fortunate to work with I think five of the last Macon and now Macon/Bibb mayors. From Tommy Olmstead, Jim Marshall, Jack Ellis, Robert Rickard, County Commission chairman Sam Hart … operate a construction company, now a property management and development company. Working throughout this community in partnership with the city of Macon and the county, we’ve made tremendous strides when we were intentional about the work of blight. When I started this work, it was called substandard housing. Blight is just a new term for substandard housing. Being intentional about the work, being intentional about addressing blight, means devoting resources and seeking the support from the federal government to help. We have a program called, the “first time home buyer” program and I participated in it. Then, at the time, Renaissance housing, greater Macon housing, Community Development Department… we did a significant amount of work. Whitby, Inc built over a thousand homes, renovated over a thousand properties. We won two national awards. I don’t think any community in the country had ever won two national awards for the work that was done under those administrations that I just named. In 2008,2009 we was awarded two federal awards from HUD for the work that was done, but blight is a byproduct of poverty. The resources are disproportionately not allocated, or it’s not visible in anyway that there’s an equitable, equitable distribution of the resources. And that’s one of the key issues that will substantially reduce the blight issue. No government, no municipality can come in with a poverty level the rate that we have here in Macon/Bibb and not see these very issues. So we’ve got to get intentional about addressing the issues that cause blight. It’s not enough just to tear down a home. It’s not enough just to clean up a lot. You got to address the human component. We must address the human component that impact these neighborhoods and these communities. I grew up in Unionville. I grew up in Tindal Heights. I grew up in West Macon. I grew up in Macon. I seen the good, I’ve seen the bad and there’s a cause for all of it. And if we come together as a community, I’m so excited. I’m so excited because we truly have an opportunity to come together as a community. North Macon and South Macon. East Macon and West Macon. We truly have an opportunity to build on the successes; and there are successes. There are success stories, but it’s going to take a candidate; it’s going to take a mayor who can move from where we are. We’ve made great strides as we consolidated this government. We made great strides. We’ve just got to make sure that that’s spread to every corner of Macon/Bibb County and we can do it. I’m excited as I talk to our stakeholders, I’m excited as I talk to our young people. The talent is here. All we need to do is harness the wheel to get out of the silos, to break down the barriers. We all want the same thing. We want opportunities. We want to have opportunities for our children. I have six daughters, I have six daughters and I want them to enjoy a community that support and give them the opportunities to dream and be able to fulfill their dreams.

“Um, how would you prioritize spending to improve road conditions, safety and traffic?”
TRT 5:05
I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve had the opportunity to work aside the last five mayors and county commissioner chairman. In the capacity that I’ve served in this community, I’ve been involved with the last five SPLOST efforts, service delivery agreements, what we, and I’m proud of the work that we’ve done; we make the case to the taxpayers. We make the case to the citizens. No one person have the answers to the issues that plague this community. But what I am confident when you get stakeholders at the table and have honest, frank discussions, magical things happen. I’m very proud of the work we’d done in the passage of the last two SPLOST efforts in this community; the last three actually. But it’s going to take far more than just creative ways to raise taxes. It’s going to take far more than just creative ways to persuade a community to be okay with the millage going up. What is truly going to take is the commitment to support our young people. No community, no community can maintain the level of services when it’s constantly losing its number one asset and that’s its young people. Our young people are leaving our community in droves. Why? Lack of opportunities. I’m just fed up with seeing our young people in hearing our young people, “I’m leaving going to Atlanta. I’m leaving, going to Charlotte, I’m leaving, going to Charleston, I’m leaving, going to Florida”. We’ve got to really commit to creating a community that our young people find opportunity in and will lend its talents to moving this community in the direction that we want to go. If we don’t, if we don’t summon the strength to do things differently, this community can’t survive. I’m confident that our community is ready to move forward. I’m confident that the stakeholders are ready to commit and recommit; whether it’s blight, whether it’s the crime component, our seniors. We introduced a six point plan to combat crime. That’s a plan that has been drawn from the meetings that we had on the South side of town, on the East side of town. This is not Cliffard Whitby’s plan. This is the community plan and we’re excited that what can happen. But the core of your question is prioritizing; prioritizing the dwindling resources. You may know this, but I served as the chairman of the lead economic development arm on the making Bibb County industrial authority and I took over the industrial authority in the midst of the worst recession in modern history. Many called it a depression. In 2008, when I took over the industrial authority, it was operating on $250,000 a year annual budget. When I left the industrial authority, it had surpluses. We had developed an innovative strategy to generate resources from the projects that we was able to persuade that Macon/Bibb was a place to relocate their business. So yes, there are opportunities; but to prioritize the services, it’s going to take a lot more than just raising taxes.

“Um, this is sort of segue into some of the things that, um, you mentioned about youth today. Um, and we know that like Macon/Bibb, the Macon/Bibb government doesn’t have control over education. It’s a separate budget separate system. But what do you see County government being able to do to help the Bibb County schools system?”
TRT 4:43
You know, that’s a very interesting question. With all due respect, it’s not a separate system. This is our system. We’re citizens of this community, we elect school board members from this community, the mayor of the consolidated government is the top elected official in this community. We have a serious problem with education. We have a serious problem with education. When you look at the governor’s report and our school’s failing at an alarming rate, it’s going to take all hands on deck to get our hands around what really plagues our public education. We must get intentional. We cannot survive as a community if we don’t all commit. We have some of the most dedicated teachers, public educators, anywhere. But the problem that they face is a community problem. It’s not just a board of education problem. And I just reject the notion that it’s separate. Anything that impact our children should be a top priority for the top elected official of this community and under a Whitby administration, it would be my number one priority to get the right people in the room, to get the stakeholders in the room, to get parents in the room, to get businesses in the room. I’ve sat across the table from CEO’s as the lead economic development arm, negotiating to bring a Tesla to our community and we check all the boxes. We make … we have all the assets and then the 500 pound gorilla show up in the room. We liked your location. We like your commitment from this aspect, that aspect. We love the fact that you got abundance of water. Our number one concern is workforce and the public school system that has plagued this community for decades and we can no longer turn a blind eye. We must address, we must address the failing education of our public schools. And regardless of what anybody say if you just go read the CSI statistics, our children are in trouble and it’s gonna take everybody, every tax payer, every citizen. We are all in this boat together. And if we’re going to survive as a community, that has to be the number one priority.

“Did you want to name anything specific though, in terms of improvements or things that you see that the County can do for the school or making their County to do for the schools? You don’t have to, but if you had, if you had anything specific…”

There are so many innovative models to school reform and renovations. There are many, many, many success stories across the country. But what it’s truly going to take is a commitment to families. A commitment to the grandmother who’s raising the school-aged child. What is truly going to take is a commitment from this community to say, we’re going, we’re going to make sure this child make it. We’re going to make sure we support this young person. We’re going to give our teachers what they need. We’re going to give our principals. We’re gonna make sure our school superintendent is the right person. We’re gonna make sure that we support public education because that is the great equalizer in this country.

“Um, so besides the Sheriff’s department, is there a County department that you think is either understaffed or overstaffed and what changes would you potentially make to the two departments?”
TRT 4:27
You mentioned the sheriff. David Davis is a good friend of mine. I admire the work that he has done in this community, our urban city of Macon size and we don’t have the racial animus with our sheriff and our top law enforcement officer. That speaks volumes. Our first responders. They are on the front line of this wave of crime and violence. I have very good friends on the Sheriff’s department and I think we owe it to them to make sure they have everything they need and they’re not constantly trying to shop around for higher wages. I would want, I would like to see our deputies and our law enforcement officers, some of the highest paid officers in this state. But not just the officers, we have great employees here in Macon-Bibb; people that are committed. I want to see a way we can reward people who have dedicated their lives to serving and to service of this community. It can be done. We can truly commit to making sure our first responders and our employees are adequately compensated with a head of the household salary. We can do that if you want for your neighbor what you want for yourself. That should be a commitment, but it’s one thing to say that. It’s another thing to have the right person in the office who have a track record of making that happen. My track record is creating. My track record is developing strategies that are different. One of the consistent, one of the consistent complaints I’ve gotten as I traveled this community … people just tired of the same old model. Raising taxes and cutting. We can’t just raise taxes to pay the first responders’ employees. We got to take a package to a community and get community bought in. I wouldn’t raise taxes without having the community looking look at all of the options that we have. All of the departments must be reevaluated. There’s a concept called shared responsibility. We all have a responsibility not to do the same old, same old, just because it’s convenient or it’s politically expedient, but doing the right thing because we’ve got to move from this place of stagnation to a place of prosperity. And I know that’s what all of Macon-Bibb want. The growing pains, you have to make tough decisions. But I commit that we will look at every department and we will have, when I talk about real oversight committees, when I talk about citizens advisory committees with teeth, a cabinet level kind of platform and why shouldn’t we? Our tax payers, they are the backbone. And I just got to tell you, I’ve been in the room when we’re dividing up the dollars. I grow the pie. I don’t redivide the pie. We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to grow. Back to losing our young people. we can’t continue down this road.

“You still have time. So about five minutes. Okay. We’ll ask you this question then. Um, relate a little bit to something you said before, but um, what would you do to improve race relations in Macon-Bibb?”
TRT 4:09
We cannot, we cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. There are those in this community that benefit from race division. There are those in this community that benefit from race division. One of the things I’m most proud of as I lead the lead economic development arm, there’s not a single initiative that I push from the industrial authority perspective that didn’t have unanimous consent, unanimous consent, from city council, from the Bibb County commission, from the industrial authority board, from the board education board. How do you do that? You have to get in the room and have conversations with people. You have to get in the room and understand we’ve got to do this together. We cannot continue to divide this community and expect to have a thriving prosperous community. It don’t work. These are age old issues and I’ll tell this now here in the final negotiations with Irving Tissue, I sat across the room from Mr. Irving we had checked off all the boxes and was about to land the largest project Bibb County have had since Browning Williams in the 70s and we’re this close and Mr. Irving looks across the table and say, “How are we going to address this racial divide?” We had every major player in the room and the only someone could look Mr. Irving in the face and honestly say we don’t have all the answers. We are southern city just like the ones you are also looking at. They have the same issue but we are committed to working toward bridging that divide and what I will say to you, what I would do as the mayor, is commit to bringing everybody to the table and leaving race outside of the door and making decisions that’s in the best interest of this community. We will govern. We will have an administration with a motto, “If it’s good for Macon, if it’s good for business, if it’s good for Macon, if it’s good for the school board, we are committed”. If it’s good for bringing industry in, if it’s good for recreating, sometimes you must take a step back to go forward. Sometime you must regroup. If we as a community can summons the strength to really commit with being intentional about these issues. We know race is a major issue. It was here before we got here, and we hope we can help advance ending that as a major issue in our community. It’s not an easy answer, it’s no one answer that’s gonna satisfy everybody. But I will say, if we commit to doing what need to be done for this community, we can overcome race.