MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Macon-Bibb County will soon have many new faces representing its districts.
June 9th is the new Election Day, which includes races for local governments.
Weston Stroud is a candidate for District 2. He says he plans on making your street more neighborhood friendly.
Decision 2020: Meet Weston Stroud, Macon-Bibb Commission Candidate for District 2
Candidate name: Weston Stroud
Running for: District 2
Occupation: Transit Planner at Macon Transit Authority/ Board of Bike Walk Macon
Campaign Facebook: Weston Stroud for District 2 Commissioner
Q. Thank you for joining us today, Mr. Stroud. You are running for District 2. So we’re going to jump right into it. What do you view as some of the best things Macon-Bibb has to offer compared to the rest of middle Georgia?
A. Our logistic location, when we think about where we are on the center of the state with two major highways that go through Macon. I think that makes us one of the best locations as far as transportation. As well as the history and the people that we have here and the architecture. There’s a lot of relics of our past that are just unique to the Middle Georgia area and unique to Macon and in particular that just makes us a destination.
Q. If you’re elected, what are some of your priorities that you really want to push through and how would you get the fellow commissioners on board to help you with your ideas?
A. We have a few priorities. The first being tactical urban-ism. It’s an affordable way that we can change the street structure to accommodate the growth that we expect. So we want more jobs, we want people to live and enjoy our community. We have to think of how we can make our community more livable and and friendly for pedestrians and on the human scale. So when you think about how the cities and how our communities are designs, a lot of it is based on owning a car. And so just moving more towards walkable cities, walkable communities and thinking about how we can provide opportunities within communities that have historicallynot seen those same rate of investments. And so how that would look for me going forward would be progressive zoning policies that allows for more uses in neighborhoods. By having more opportunities for economic advancement, young entrepreneurs, young startups, they can have one their business and the same structure where they live. So now you’ve mitigated some of the overhead costs, so it’s a little bit easier to start a small business. And if we do that, then we can start looking at how we can bring resources back to the communities that are experiencing food deserts that are experiencing a lack of access to resources. But in order to really accommodate that type of growth, you gotta start with street structure. So tactical urbanism is a starting point and that’s the way I would like to get the other commissioners involved because one, it gives us an opportunity to, to engage the neighborhood and ask, you know, what are some of the things you’re experiencing? What would you like to see, your neighborhood look like going forward? Then starting with the basic things like transportation, road structure, that’s how we can start with safety. That’s how we can look at lighting. We can look at all the, the, the infrastructure that creates environments for success and so one of the big things in the, in the urban planning world and going forward with a lot of cities are doing is crime prevention through environmental design. So there’s, there’s a lot that we can do to keep our crime rates going down and making Bibb like we’ve seen in the past five years. So more things that we can do to be proactive. And it just starts with little things like caring about the streets.
Q. The current commission has discussed a pay scale study for pay raises for first responders and county employees in general. Where do you stand on that and then is there room in the budget?
A. I think that we have to assess this year’s taxes that we generated. You know, this pandemic has really put a mark on where we’re going to go forward on. One of the things that we know that we have to do is fully fund and funded adequately our first responders, right? We have to pay them at a scale that in a rate that is competitive so that we can get more more boots on the ground to address the issues that we know we need to, as far as how we allocate funds going forward. We’re just going to have to assess the budget. We’ve lost a lot of taxes off the hotel, motel tax. We didn’t have Cherry Blossom. We’re in a different position than we were six months ago. I was actually affected by the 2018 budget crisis, working with the transit authority. My job was on the line. When you talk about not funding outside agencies, so I know the pressures associated with the funding and how that’s allocated and what that looks like and the services that may be affected by that. So before I make any type of overarching judgment, I think it’s just best to look at what we have.
Q. With that being said, I know yesterday Mayor Robert Reichert, during committee, mentioned exactly what you did. You know, because we’re losing a lot of revenue this month, we’re going to have to take a look at the budget and then maybe revisit it again in January. So with the pandemic, I know you mentioned we have to look at the budget, but what are some of your plans to kind of pull us out of this hole because of the pandemic?
A. So that’s what progressive zoning policies are so important because we have to think about how we can provide small businesses the opportunity to one, mitigate some of their overhead costs and kind of focus in on where exactly they expect their, uh, their customer base to come from. There’s a lot of people in our community now just going through the process of just talking to people going door to door before Corona virus. There’s a lot of people who want to start small businesses that live near blighted homes that live near potential spaces could be used for more than just residential. With more progressive policies to allow for new business ventures in areas that we haven’t seen it before. Now we’ve cut down the cost to be an entrepreneur and then, and now we’ve made it easier for people to see themselves investing in making Bibb County. So one of the things that I think that we have to do is, uh, think of how we can simplify the process for small businesses. Even when I worked in planning and zoning, I got the opportunity to see some of the hurdles that that small businesses ran into and some of the constraints that they have with current policies. So if we can just open it up to make it a little bit more inclusive and to begin changing the way that we even think about commercial spaces and retail spaces. It doesn’t have to be these giant box stores because what happens to the community when the Kroger’s, the public’s leave? What happens to where those neighborhood groceries that we, that we used to have? So we just have to think about we have to rethink about how how we assess our neighborhoods and what we expect from our neighborhoods. So provide more opportunities for small businesses to mitigate the overhead costs is really my focus point.
Q. So then with blight, where does that rank in your priorities?
A. So blight is something that, it’s an expensive process to go through from finding out who owns the property to then, the legal fees to actually take the property andc onvert it to the land bank and then selling it and then the back pay taxes on it. So there’s just so much of a process that you have to go through before we can knock down homes. By incentivizing growth and development in those areas, it can then kind of serve as a catalyst for how we attack blight to just knock down buildings and that’s access to resources and the divestment that’s happened in the area to cause a home to become blighted. So it’s not just the one blind at home that is the issue or a blighted property that’s the issue. But it’s more so the system that is caused the divestment in the area in general where you have a high concentration of, of blighted homes. And so those areas, even in our, in our current, policies, we have economic community development target areas that were established in 2001. And those target areas are some of the areas that we have the highest rates of poverty and crime. And since 2001, we haven’t seen the needle move enough on it, right? The policy that’s currently in place, it, it provides some easier zoning policies to allow for businesses to come in, but it’s not quite doing as much as we expected. We have to then relook at that and to allow, uh, educate the people about the opportunity available once we made that available. But that opportunity won’t be successful if you don’t have the proper infrastructure in place to accommodate it. So say you do take a a two story blind at home and on the first floor you have a neighborhood grocer and on the top floor, your residential, right? Best case scenario, a lot of the neighborhood begins to use it. So you have to start with street structure and where people will be able to park, where people will be able to access it, egress in. And you know, those types of tactical issues of, of just access and logistical issues makes it either enjoyable, the area enjoyable or difficult to even shop there. So those types of things are things that we have to consider city planning, planning out our neighborhoods and how we expect people to enjoy it.
Q. What needs to be done to support the sheriff’s office regarding the community’s concerns about crime?
A. We have to think of one. We can’t put all the burden on our sheriff to deal with all the problems around in crime surrounding crime. There’s a whole theory of criminology called the broken window theory where you throw a rock out at a window, it breaks, no one comes to fix it. Then people begin to believe that no one cares. No one’s focused in on it. No one, no one cares about what happens. So then vandalism begins to happen. Then people begin to loiter there. Eventually someone may may have to stay there because they’re facing housing insecurity and they make a fire and the house may burn out. You know, so it’s now you have a property that is blighted and burnt out. And so there’s just a lot of different factors that lead to two crimes and one of the things is the small things. And so what we can do to help our office, our Sheriff’s office is by making small investments, early intervention. Trying to figure out one, how we can improve the environment that people are living in? Because the environment oftentimes crafts the actions and what’s allowed and what’s the culture, the acceptable norms in the area. And so if we can show the community that we care as elected officials, as policy makers, as those who allocate funds, we show the community that, Hey, this through low cost intervention, we’re going to enhance the quality of life with just the street structure. Just to make it easier for how people are currently using the neighborhood. Then people begin to see that, alright, my community cares about my neighborhood. Maybe I shouldn’t do X, Y, and Z. Maybe someone could be watching me. It’s more lively. There’s more things going on, there’s more people. And you know that people care about what’s happening here? Cause look at, look at what they’ve done to the road. So it’s, it’s a little things that we can do to show the community that we care to create environments that don’t perpetuate actions that we don’t want to see from, from our citizens.