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MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – As Election Day inches closer, 41NBC is introducing Macon-Bibb voters to their candidates for commissioners.
Decision 2020: Meet Seth Clark, Macon-Bibb Commission Candidate for District 5
Candidate name: Seth Clark
Running for: District 5
Occupation: Small business owner
Campaign Facebook: Seth Clark for Macon-Bibb County Commission
Campaign Twitter: @seth_c_clark
Q. What are your plans for your district, if elected, and how do you plan on getting your fellow commissioners on board?
A. I think there’s three major things that are facing this district. First, I think the public safety problem that we’re having in Macon-Bibb, it’s really affecting the neighborhoods on the ground that make up District 5. We have a shortage of 150 officers, and when you have a shortage like that you can’t implement a strong community policing program, which I think really is a piece that we have to implement. To lower crime rates in the neighborhood, we need to have a policing structure where we hire people that look like the citizens that they are patrolling, that know them, that grew up in the neighborhoods that their beat is in. So, I think that’s the first thing we have to do is get a handle on starting salaries that make them regionally competitive in the shortfall that we have officers. The second thing I think that’s pressing is the food desert that we live in. When Kroger pulled out of the Pio Nono corridor, they left a massive food desert here in Macon-Bibb. Some people are paying $4 or $5 a gallon per the Macon Telegraph’s investigation into just a couple of years back at gas stations. If they don’t want to do that, and if they need to find access to fresh produce, they have to get on a bus. Some of them take a 45 minutes to the Forsyth Road Kroger, 45 minutes back, and that’s unacceptable from a moral standpoint but also from an economic standpoint. We’re paying for that. Without having a staple institution like a grocery store in this neighborhood it’s harder to attract businesses. We’re paying the transportation cost for folks to go up to Forsyth Road, and we’re paying for poor health outcomes from people that don’t have access to fresh and healthy produce. So, it is an economic lag on our neighborhoods, and I think it’s something that it’s going to take leadership at the county level to attract something like that. The third thing I think is we just have to really, really get a handle on blight remediation. This district has the second highest concentration of blight in Macon-Bibb County. Right now, the state of code enforcement is just unacceptable. We have to triple the amount of staff at code enforcement. I think we need to create an incentive program that makes it easier for developers to come and obtain these properties that the county’s taken over. We can make incentives for owner occupied. We can make incentives for critical mass projects, for nonprofit developers. I mean, these are just some things that other counties and cities have done across the country to do that. And part of that too, is getting a handle on terrible landlords. People that sit on these properties that live in another part of the state or another part of the country, and they let people rent these properties for a low cost. The state that they live in is terrible. We have to work with real advocates to come up with a set of renters rights, and we need to give the courts the tools that they need through code enforcement to go after these landlords and take these properties and put them on county rolls so we can begin the process of blight remediation.And we cannot go back to where we split up the blight remediation funds by political district, again. That just did not work. We have to do a needs assessment. We have to figure out where blight exists, and we have to fund pulling that down because the faster we get blight down in the neighborhoods that make up District 5 or another district that has a high concentration, the better the economy is for places like north Macon, that don’t have a high amount of blight because when our neighborhoods are doing better, our neighbors’ neighborhoods are doing better. This process is the perfect process to admit that we’re intrinsically bound to one another and our economies are, too.
Q. Blight and crime go hand in hand, and I know you mentioned we need more boots on the ground. How else can we support the sheriff’s office’s efforts in combating crime and also addressing the citizens’ concerns?
A. I think the headlines that we’ve been seeing since the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2019 are incredibly disheartening. And I think that our neighbors have a very good reason to be upset at the state of crime in their neighborhoods. But like I said before, the first thing we got to do is stop the bleeding at the Sheriff’s Department. When you have a shortage of 150 officers, and you look at the budget and you look at where the decrease in money, you see a drop over the budget projections and over the budget over the past five years, you can see that this is money coming from salaries and benefits. These are people. These are beat officers that we don’t have. So, we have to fill those, and while we’re doing that we have to make sure that we maintain an increased trust between the citizenry and law enforcement because that partnership is what really, really, really decreases crime. We can do that by implementing a strong community policing program where we incentivize and attract officers from high-crime neighborhoods to serve the community they grew up in. I think those are just two ways we can really get a handle on this.
Q. Pay raises… Our first responders need them. County employees across the board do as well. Can we afford that right now? I know that’s been a big talk/conversation, but can we afford it, especially trying to pull out from this economic crisis from the pandemic?
A. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the budget projections for next year. I’ll be frank. I think that we’re going to have to spend some of the surplus from last year on things like pay raises. I think we’re also going to have to take a hard look at hazard pay, which I know the commission’s looking for that money. I know that the next commission for the next four years is going to have a tough time of dealing that and digging out of this economic crisis caused by COVID-19. I do think that we just can’t afford to let law enforcement starting salaries be uncompetitive and noncompetitive with surrounding counties. I do think that that’s something that has a ripple effect that impacts other parts of our economy, other parts of our budget. So, I do think if we are prioritizing pay raises, I do think we need to look at getting the law enforcement pay raises up.
Q. If elected, as we just mentioned the budget, it’s going to take a lot to make sure we can recover because we didn’t have Cherry Blossom, we’re not going to have Bragg Jam, all these other events that bring us sales tax dollars. The commission is talking about looking at the budget starting next week, and then possibly commissioners need to reevaluate that in January. What are some of your plans to make sure that we come out on top economically after all of this?
A. Well, I think the first thing we can do … And I’ll just speak directly to anybody watching this that lives in Macon-Bibb County. We have to do the work to stabilize our tax base. So, when you go out, if you can shop local, if you can support some of these local businesses that are the backbone of our economy and have been for since the beginning of this Renaissance of Macon in downtown in the Second Street Corridor, and everything we’ve done over the past 10 years, we have to make sure that when we come out on the other side of this economic crisis, that they’re with us and that they’re still there. I cannot emphasize what that does to the budget and to the revenue side of the county budget if it does stabilize. So, that’s the first thing I’d ask everybody to do, and we can do that together. If we can spin locally, it really is a stabilizing factor. I do think we are going to have to make sure that we don’t do traditional, cut-to-the-bone budgeting here. I think we need to live within our means for sure, but we also need to make sure that the programs that stabilized the least of us and poverty-driven, poverty-related issues or programming, we have to maintain funding there because again, it’s about stabilizing local economies … And by local, I mean neighborhood economies, to the point where capital is moving through it. And that’s the job of the County Commission. I think we have to continue with blight remediation, with targeted blight remediation. I don’t think that that’s something that we can wait on because I think that if we halt the process or the progress that we’ve made on that, we’re jeopardizing bringing capital back into these neighborhoods to move around to create a healthy economy again. So, I think those are the things we’re going to have to look at in reevaluating our budget priorities in this new time.
Q. We just lost a legend, Little Richard. How are you going to make sure your district commemorates him and make sure his legacy lives on because he’s from your district?
A. Yes. Yes. Little Richard is the most underappreciated musician from not just the South, but from the country, and I think it’s unfortunate that it’s taken his death for us to really have that conversation. If it wasn’t for Little Richard, the Beatles wouldn’t have had anybody to open up for in Hamburg. Jimi Hendrix wouldn’t have gotten his first guitar gig. Otis Redding would not have been in the Upsetters. I mean, we’re talking James Brown would not have been hired as a vocalist. We are talking about somebody that not only created a sound that changed the way we listen to music, it created rock and roll for it will be for 200 years, this noise that he created out of thin air. We’ll alter the way that we perform and we listen. He gave all of these people a shot, and he gave black musicians a shot, white musicians a shot. He just knew that they needed a shot. Again, I think it’s terrible that we have to come to these realizations in his death and not in his life. But I think we would be completely remiss as a county to let this opportunity to honor his legacy pass. I think it’s a shame that we’re all in quarantine and can’t do a parade, do a really big honor to honor his life in a real public way where we stand close to each other and remind each other of Little Richard’s words of loving each other and how special this place is because he did talk about Macon a lot. He loved Macon. I hate that. But I do think in that void we can look at a way to commission a statue of Little Richard. I think that’s incredibly important. I think we can continue the work of stabilizing and revitalizing his home neighborhood Pleasant Hill. I think that that’s a huge way to honor him. But yeah, I think we would be making a huge mistake if we didn’t honor this legend that really put Macon on the map and created rock and roll out of nothing.
Q. What is the one, or two, things about Macon-Bibb that stand out from the rest of middle Georgia?
A. It’s the people. It’s us. It’s my neighbors. Every day I’m inspired by what we do to take care of each other. Macon-Bibb does not suffer. The Macon-Bibb that I’ve come to know knocking on thousands of doors and the community forums and looking at the nonprofits and then having the leaders in the neighborhoods that make up around the bundle area, Pleasant Hill, and Unionville, what’s going on in these neighborhoods is the opposite of exclusivity.We want progress in this county for everyone, and that’s special. That’s different. There’s such a strong effort to make sure that we’re locking arms and moving forward together so that we don’t see progress on one side of town and on the other ones our neighbors don’t have to sit in a stagnant, local economy, that we want everybody to do better. I’m really hopeful for that, and I think that’s very, very, very special. It’s an honor to live here because of that.