Meet the candidates running for Milledgeville mayor

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MILLEDGEVILLE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Milledgeville voters will decide their next mayor during a special election in June. All of the candidates tell 41NBC the Antebellum Capital has had a rough year.

A group filed ethics complaints last year against city council. In February, a judge reviewed them and recommended the city manager resign. The council took no action and Barry Jarrett is still working for Milledgeville.

Former Mayor Richard Bentley stepped down in October for health reasons. He was arrested last month for insurance fraud.

Also in April, the Attorney General’s Office accused city council of violating the open meetings act. A spokesperson for the agency tells 41NBC it is in negotiations with the board, but nothing is finalized yet.

The mayoral candidates say regaining the citizens’ trust is a priority and they all believe they have what it takes to move the city forward.

Melba Burrell is new to politics, but a longtime resident of the Antebellum Capital. The business owner says she was motivated to run for office for two reasons.

“As a citizen wanting ethical, honest, and transparent government, and as a business owner wanting jobs back in the community so that my business could do better,” Burrell said.

She was part of the group that filed ethics complaints against city council.

"I want to get along with city council. I will work very hard to get along with city council. However, I will not participate in unethical government or illegal acts ever,” Burrell said.

Economic development, keeping the Oconee Regional Medical Center in the community, and supporting local businesses are Burrell’s top priorities.

Floyd Griffin is no stranger to City Hall. He served as the Milledgeville mayor from 2002 to 2006. He was also a state senator and ran for Lieutenant Governor. He believes his background will help him hit the ground running.

"We don’t need to have a rookie mayor to come in with two and half years left making it a training ground to become a mayor,” Griffin said.

Griffin says he felt obligated to come back and serve the people of Milledgeville again. He adds his past experience with bringing jobs to the community and the relationships he’s built over the years will help move the city forward.

“The question is have you had experience doing that? And I’ve had experience doing that. My opponents, all they can say is, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ but they have not had experience in doing it."

Businessman Gary Thrower has never run for office, but he believes that could help him serve as the next mayor.

"I don’t come into this office with any baggage [or] preconceived notions of anyone’s ability to perform. Everyone will have a fresh start with me and I’ll take them at face value,” Thrower said.

Thrower says what has happened is in the past. The next leader of Milledgeville needs to focus on the future.

"It revolves around that mantra of doing the right thing for the right reason every time,” Thrower said. “If we can continue to work in those directions and keep the community interests at heart, then I feel like over time the faith will be restored."

When it comes to unifying the city and county governments, all three candidates say it is not a bad idea. But they have problems with the proposed charter that was passed this legislative session.

Griffin says it is not the right time for unification.

"Why rush it? If you’re going to do it, take your time and do it right. This was not done right,” Griffin said.

Burrell believes the city and county can merge services without consolidating.

"I would immediately reach out to the county to see where we can start working on consolidation of services to make it better for our citizens,” Burrell said.

Thrower adds he would also work with county leaders and look at unification from a business perspective.

"Does it make sense to come together with the county and maybe merge our services in certain ways, to try to find more efficient ways to run this government,” Thrower said.

Early voting for the Milledgeville mayoral race is underway. Residents can cast their ballots at the Baldwin County courthouse.

Early voting ends June 12th. Election day is June 16th.

Watch full interviews with the candidates below: