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MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Macon-Bibb Commissioners voted Tuesday night to approve funding for Mayor Lester Miller’s initiative to address mental health.
“This program incorporates a holistic approach for reducing recidivism, resolving conflicts without violence, and also increasing access to mental healthcare within the Macon-Bibb community,” Miller said last month.
The county will provide The Southern Center for Choice Theory $50,000 per month for one year, using CARES Act funds, to establish cost-free mental health clinics that provide services like mental health counseling, conflict resolution counseling, and anger management classes.
There are seven focus areas:
- Pleasant Hill Community: (Booker T. Washington Center)
- Pio Nono Avenue area: (Hispanic Community Center)
- Pendleton Homes (near Bruce Elementary School)
- West Macon (Cherokee Heights/Bartlett Crossing area)
- East Macon: (Rosa Jackson Center)
- Bloomfield: (Gilead on Rocky Creek)
- Payne City/Hillcrest/Brookdale Warming Center
The item was originally part of Tuesday’s consent agenda and scheduled to be passed in bulk along with 19 other items, but Commissioner Valerie Wynn raised concerns about using what she called an outside company for the services.
“I have a problem with this,” Wynn told the mayor. “I don’t know that River Edge was consulted, fully consulted, at least I know they weren’t, because I spoke to (River Edge CEO) Dr. Shannon Gordon.”
“It kind of came as a surprise to her that we weren’t going to use the facilities that they provide and the services they provide,” Wynn continued. “They can fulfill all of the services that were listed by that other contract company.”
Commissioner Al Tillman then raised concerns about the commission’s consent agenda process, in which items are placed on the consent agenda during the committee of the whole meeting if they receive at least six votes. He pointed to Wynn’s comments as an example of a commissioner hearing from constituents after items are placed on the consent agenda for bulk approval.
“I just think that process is not a good process,” Tillman said.
“The charter allows me to set that consent agenda, which I have chosen to do,” Miller said to Tillman. “We did discuss that, because I remember Commissioner (Seth) Clark in the very beginning saying that six would mean it would overrule a mayor’s veto, and I remember you responding back to it and saying that some people do change their mind.”
“As chair I can determine what goes on the consent agenda,” Miller continued. “As commissioner, you can ask for an item to be removed from there pursuant to the charter.”
Wynn’s concern prompted Miller to remove the item from the consent agenda and open a discussion.
“What we have been doing in Macon-Bibb County to reduce crime, to do early intervention, simply has not worked,” Miller told commissioners.
“This company has been well vetted out,” he said. “Professional services don’t have to be bid out. There’s going to be plenty of times you don’t like the person that’s been selected on professional services. That’s why you exercise your right to vote it either up or down.”
“I let Dr. Gordon know in advance so she would not feel slighted and there would be other opportunities for us in the future to work with her,” Miller said. “I am assured that she’s upset because they didn’t get the money, but we have spent lots and lots of money, gave them SPLOST money on projects, and we fund them, and I’m sure we’re going to fund them in the future, because mental health is important to all of us.”
Wynn, along with Tillman and Commissioners Elaine Lucas and Virgil Watkins, agreed the fight against mental health is important.
“This is outside the budget,” Miller continued. “This is money we received from the CARES Act grant, and this is money that we’re doing on a pilot project only that each of you nine commissioners will have a right to look at that information next year or before then and decide you do not want to fund them.”
Commissioners then voted 8-1 to approve funding the initiative. Wynn voted no.