Decision 2020: Meet Blake Sullivan, candidate for Macon-Bibb mayor
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Five candidates are qualified for the upcoming Macon-Bibb mayoral election.
Lester Miller, Larry Schlesinger, Blake Sullivan, Cliffard Whitby and Marc Whitfield are competing to fill the seat held by Robert Reichert since 2007.
Reichert, who was inaugurated in 2007 as the mayor of the City of Macon, won a runoff election against C. Jack Ellis in October 2013 to become the first mayor of what is now consolidated Macon-Bibb County. His term ends in December.
41NBC’s Tucker Sargent spoke with each candidate ahead of the June 9 election.
Candidate name: Blake Sullivan
Running for: Macon-Bibb mayor
Occupation: Business owner and entrepreneur
Campaign Website: blakesullivan2020.com
Campaign Facebook: @BlakeSullivan2020
Campaign Twitter: @BSullivan2020
TUCKER: Blake Sullivan joining us now—candidate for Macon-Bibb mayor. Blake, thanks for joining us.
BLAKE: Thank you, Tucker. Glad to be here tonight.
TUCKER: So we’ll start with your priorities if you’re elected Mayor of Macon-Bibb. What are your top priorities for the county?
BLAKE: Sure. First and foremost, we’re in pretty poor financial shape, and we’ve really got to work on that. We have some of the highest ad valorem taxes of any surrounding county, and yet we provide some of the poorest services. We’re unable to hire enough police and fire personnel. We don’t pay our employees enough. We’re basically spending a lot of money on things that we can’t afford, and we’ve got to do a better job of managing our resources. So, that would be first on the list. I also want to work on blight. I’ve made a campaign promise: We have identified over 2,200 houses in the blight study a couple years ago. I want to go ahead and tear all of those down and remediate the ones that we can save. I want to use our sales tax, but I want to do that and leverage federal funding that’s available—very similar to what Detroit and Baltimore did. And then I guess the other thing I’d like to tell you is that we are a very divided community—socially, economically and racially, and we’ve got to take care of all parts of our community. It seems like we provide services to north Macon and downtown and neglect other parts of our community. We shouldn’t be doing that. We’re all in the same boat, and I’d like to say that we can’t allow parts of our community to suffer. That just provides a leaky boat for us, and we’ve got to go in there and work with all parts of our community to keep us strong and keep us functioning the way we need to.
TUCKER: I’m glad you mentioned that. That was actually one of my questions. I see on social media a lot of people will say when something new happens for north Macon or downtown specifically, and you mentioned it yourself, they’ll say, ‘Well that’s great. Another development for that area. What about us in east Macon or south Macon?’ How important do you think the growth in downtown Macon/north Macon has been, and also how important is it to reach out to places that do feel they’re neglected?
BLAKE: Yeah, I think it’s very important. You know we are Macon-Bibb County. The political division encompasses everybody who lives within those boundaries, and to just focus on north Macon or downtown or parts of south Macon gives a disservice to the rest of the citizens that live here, and we just can’t keep doing that. We’ve got to be able to provide police protection out there to those folks. We’ve got to do a better job of stopping speeders and picking up trash and doing all the things that are necessary to provide good services to those people that are out there. We’ve got a number of roads that are in terrible shape. We’ve got to find a way to help get those paved. We just need to be able to take care of all people and have a focus that says Macon-Bibb cannot be strong unless all of our citizens are supported, all of our citizens’ needs are looked at, and that we are unified in our effort to do that.
TUCKER: So we’ve gone over some things that you’d like to fix or maybe try to address at least. What are some things that you feel Macon-Bibb is strong in? What’s the selling point for Macon-Bibb when you do maybe try to recruit businesses in?
BLAKE: Yeah. You know, as a business person, I looked at that issue quite intently, and I believe we have a lot of pluses going for us. First and foremost, if you just look at the county as a whole, we have great roads and transportation. Interstate highways. We have rail lines that run through here. We have two airports. We have an unbelievable water resource. We have good people that live here, and we have two great universities that are here, a technical college. We have a level one trauma center hospital that’s here. We have two hospitals in fact that are here. We’re blessed with an abundance of things that are in this community that nobody else can lay claim for. That’s got to entice businesses to come to Macon-Bibb, and I believe that’s one of our strongest suits that we have. Just the things that make Bibb County what Bibb County is—make it advantageous for a business to locate here.
TUCKER: One concern a lot of the candidates and residents have, obviously is crime. You mentioned blight, but also crime and public safety. What needs to be done to support the sheriff and the sheriff’s office and the community’s concerns about crime?
BLAKE: Yeah, so, first and foremost, I’ll tell you that study after study that’s been done shows that when we remediate blight, it has a big impact on crime. If you think about it, it’s very intuitive. If you’re a citizen who has a house and has a blighted property next to you or right across the street, what that does is–I’m sure it gives you a sense of hopelessness, right? You’re living in a community where those houses exist, and you just wake up every day and walk out your front door and see that. So, I think being able to take care of blight will reduce crime, and that’s first and foremost. I want to be able to hire some officers, and we’re about 150 short, according to the sheriff. The reason we’re short is because we don’t pay a market salary. And until and unless we do that, we will not have the police officers that we need to serve this county. I guess the next thing I would say is that we need to be smarter. We have a lot of crime statistics. I worked with a community down in Americus who had the same problem. We have crimes that occur in certain parts of our community. There are more murders in Unionville, there are other parts of our community that have crime that’s very specific to a particular neighborhood. The police and sheriff’s department know when those occur. We have geographic information systems or computer mapping where we can run analysis on the crime statistics and be able to put officers out in high-crime areas and let them be visible. Instead of policing all of Macon, you just send them to a place where crime is or park a car there—even something as simple as that. I think we can work smarter, and I want to try to encourage our sheriff to start doing that. Technology gives us a big leg up today, and we need to be using more of it.
TUCKER: So do you feel that just altering the way things are now is more important than paying for more officers? You did mention you would like to hire some officers—some deputies.
BLAKE: Sure. I want to hire some more officers, but sadly we can’t do that, because we don’t pay them enough. Our fire responders, the same thing. We train people to be certified firefighters. They get paid higher somewhere else. They end up leaving our community. That’s a negative for us, and we’ve got to figure out a way to do that, and I’m committed to try and get that done, so that we can—we don’t have to worry about if your house is on fire and not having adequate staff to go handle that, or if there is a crime committed in our community, that we don’t have an officer there who can respond to it. So it’s paramount that we pay our first responders a market rate so that we can get good people to come into our community to be able to serve us and those critical needs.
TUCKER: On that note, pivoting to other county employees. Obviously, the commission’s had several discussions about pay scale studies to increase county employee pay. What are your thoughts on that, because those people are also leaving for other counties where they feel they can make more money?
BLAKE: Yeah, they are, and it’s important that all employees are paid what they’re worth. In today’s market, sadly, being on the job for a long period of time is something that the millennials and newer groups don’t adhere to. They’re used to giving it two or three years and moving on to somewhere else and building on their career by going other places. I think it’s important for us to be able to pay market salaries to attract the best and the brightest and to retain the people that are already working for us. We’ve got to be able to find the money to do that, and I’m committed to finding the very best people working in Macon-Bibb that we can have.
TUCKER: Blake Sullivan, candidate for Macon-Bibb Mayor. We appreciate you joining us.
BLAKE: Thank you, Tucker. I appreciate it, and thank you very much for doing this. This is a big service in this time of need. As you know, the pandemic has kept all of us from getting out into the community, and what you’re doing right here is a vital service to us and to our community so that everyone can be well educated about who to vote for in this very important election.
Snippets from all candidates’ interviews will air on 41NBC News at 5:30 p.m. and 41NBC News at 7 p.m. on Bounce TV Macon. All interviews will also be posted in full on 41NBC.com on the following days: