Decision 2020: Meet Lester Miller, 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: Lester Miller
Running for: Macon-Bibb mayor
Occupation: Small business owner
Campaign Website: lesterformayor.com
Campaign Facebook: @LesterMillerforMayor
Campaign Twitter: @ThanksLester1
TUCKER: Lester Miller joining us now—candidate for Macon-Bibb mayor. Lester, thanks for joining us today.
LESTER: Thanks for having me, Tucker.
TUCKER: We’ll start our interview with just the top priorities for you. If you were to be Mayor of Macon-Bibb, what are your top priorities for Macon-Bibb?
LESTER: Well, number one is going to have to be public safety. I think that’s on everybody’s top of the list. And number two is going to be jobs and number three is going to be taxes.
TUCKER: What do you view as—what’s your selling point for Macon-Bibb when you’re trying to trying to maybe recruit businesses into Macon-Bibb? What’s the strong point for Macon-Bibb?
LESTER: Macon-Bibb has so many advantages, the way I see it. Number one, we’ve got great people. We have a great location, and we have many things to offer a business coming into downtown—coming into Macon in general. In particular, we have a school system that’s on the rise. Back a while back, we had a hard time getting businesses to come to Macon, and as you can imagine, it was difficult with a graduation rate—back before 2012—around 50 percent. Now, in the last several years, you’ve seen a lot of businesses come to Macon: Amazon, Irving, Kumho, Tractor Supply, and all the credit for that doesn’t go to one particular group, but a large part of that has to go to the education system, because businesses are not going to locate somewhere if they can’t find a quality workforce. So I think that’s one of the advantages we have. Of course we have the best water in the world. Macon Water Authority does an excellent job, and we provide water to a lot of these businesses. We provide a workforce that can handle these jobs that we have—particularly on the new jobs for software and aerospace and things like that, so I think we’re moving in the right direction. So Macon’s got a lot to offer in that area. We’ve got some things we’ve got to work to improve on, and taxes is one of those things, and public safety is one of those things. We have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, and those are things we’re going to have to address if we want to continue to grow and to thrive and get businesses to come to Macon.
TUCKER: You’ve mentioned public safety twice now. That’s obviously a big concern for a lot of the candidates and for residents here. What needs to be done to improve public safety in Macon-Bibb?
LESTER: Well first and foremost, we have to get on the same page. We’ve had 16 murders this year. Sometimes people say the crime rate’s going down. Well, 16 murders doesn’t tell me it’s going down. We have to get more boots on the ground. It’s no secret depending on who you talk to that we are about 150 deputies short here in Macon. You can argue on any particular day on whether we should have 100 more, 150 more, 25 more, but the bottom line is we don’t have enough boots on the ground and we’re overworking our deputies. We need to provide a safe and secure environment for people to live and enjoy their life and to be safe in the community, and to do that, we’re going to have to have more boots on the grounds. I think there’s many ways to do that. We’ve also got about 3,000 warrants that haven’t been served. Macon may have a crime rate; well, if you look at the numbers a pretty good bit, you’ll see that a lot of the crimes are incurred by just a few, part of the population, meaning that few people cause all of the crime in Macon. If we can get some of those folks off the street, then we can perhaps do a better job of increasing the safety we have in the community.
TUCKER: So with added public safety—added boots on the ground—there will be a cost with that. There’s obviously also talk right now in the commission about a pay scale to give county employees raises. How important do you think that is?
LESTER: Well, it’s certainly important to take care of our employees as much as we can pay for that. You hear a lot of talk about people saying we need to have more boots on the ground. I started this about two and a half years ago, and I was one of the first persons that said that public safety is our number one issue. And lo and behold, every time you turn on the TV now, one of my opponents is going to say public safety is a top priority. Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out with our crime rate and the number of police we have, as well as fire, too. Fire’s part of that public safety. But you’ve got to know how to pay for it. They’ve done salary scale after salary scale after salary scale, and they haven’t implemented anything, because you have to realize you have to get to the back end to find out how much it’s going to cost to see if you’re going to be able to do this or not. So I had a plan put in place for a while on several ways—not just one—on how we can pay for that. Number one—I don’t know if you’ve seen or not—the Justice Works program that I’ve been promoting. That’s my own name; I call it Justice Works. But basically, it’s non-violent offenders that otherwise would be in the jail costing us $55 a day, we could have them electronic monitoring or put into a transition place where they can go to work every day. And believe it or not, we have people that will hire those inmates every single day of the week. They can work 40 or 50 hours and earn money themselves, and they can also pay their own room, their own board, their own transportation to and from work. At the same time, they’ll get interest on that money when they get out, but they’ll keep their child support current and they’ll also help pay to stay at their own place. I think that’s a big savings for public safety. How does it put more boots on the ground? Well, when you’re at the jail, and you’re under lock and key all day long, it may take 25, 30 officers to lock that particular group down. Well if they’re in a transitional place going to work half the day, that’s going to free up that many officers. 25 officers—you’re talking about $1.8 million probably by the time you put the benefits and everything to it. So putting them in the least restrictive environment and allowing them to go to work to build a trade is going to solve a bunch of our issues. That’s one way to do it. Another way you can do it is hire officers that are retired. You can work them up to 20 hours a week part-time and not have to pay all the benefits that they may receive, and that’s going to save a lot of money as well. One other approach—and I know we have many of them—but one other approach is a potential OLOST. The OLOST is a one-cent sales tax. My plan would be—if we pass that—to do a 100% rollback, but also we could designate 1 mil of that, which is about $4 million, to completely fund public safety. Check that box and move on to other things. I think there are various ways we can do that. Just simply saying we need more boots on the ground without having a plan to pay for it is really no plan at all.
TUCKER: Last question for you. I mentioned I moved here in 2012, so I’ve kind of seen a transition downtown. There’s a lot of focus on downtown under the current administration, and downtown to me–personally speaking–does feel safer with all the new businesses coming in and improvements there. I know any time you see a news article, people comment on those news articles and say, ‘Great, another improvement. What about so and so part of Macon-Bibb?’ How great do you think the improvement is in downtown and do you have any effort/plan to focus improvement elsewhere in the county?
LESTER: Well of course we’ve got to get the whole county up and not just downtown, but downtown is a vibrant community right now, and a lot of thought, a lot of time, a lot of money has went into building up the tax digest downtown. And certainly it has its benefits. You have to have a solid core downtown to begin with, and we have that. Newtown’s done an excellent job of doing that, as well as other community involvement in that area, so you want to bring in things like Sky–Blue Sky: the software company that put together from Warner Robins Air Force Base to bring these young airmen and women to Bibb County that otherwise wouldn’t stay here. Now they’re going to not only stay here, they’re going to live here. They’re going to shop here. They’re going to work here and hopefully they’re going to settle down here in Macon-Bibb County, so you certainly have that area. But we have to reach out to south Macon, west Macon, east Macon—these other areas. I live out in Lizella area. We’re missing some resources out there. We’re missing some services in Lizella. After consolidation, we got a lot of the taxes, but we’ve lost a lot of the services. Speaking of public safety, we never see officers out there, because they’re spread out all across the town. So downtown is a great place. I think under my administration it’s going to continue to thrive. It’s going to continue to grow, but we’re going to look at everything else, too. I think we need equity across the whole county, and that’s something that I plan on doing: working with people from each community. One thing I’ve learned is you can’t go to a particular community and tell them what you think is best for them. You need to get buy-in from that community, whether it’s an African American community, whether it’s a Caucasian community, whether it’s Asian, whether it’s Hispanic, whether it’s a mixture of all of those things, you can’t go in there and tell them what’s best for them. You have to find out what they want, what they need for their part of their community and help them provide the resources to make sure they can get that. That’s the only way you can get buy-in from everybody in the community. That’s the only way I can see us moving forward as a community as well.
TUCKER: All right. Lester Miller, candidate for Macon-Bibb mayor. Thank you for joining us.
LESTER: Thank you, Tucker.
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: