The man at the helm of Macon-Bibb County’s consolidated government is the new Mayor Lester Miller, who was elected at the end of the pandemic.

Miller is white while the city of Macon and greater Bibb County are both predominantly black.

He was born in Macon and in seven years attended seven different elementary schools in Bibb County. He kept moving with his parents, who both had two jobs but were still struggling to afford the bare minimum.

“My mom and I literally sat down and rolled the change she had from tips to pay our bills,” he said during an interview in his town hall office. “It gave me an appreciation for people who didn’t make a lot of money.”

He was the first in his family to graduate from high school, studied law, and worked as a lawyer and small business owner. After two terms on the school board, he campaigned for the mayor to bring more police to the streets.

“During the campaign we asked people, ‘What’s one of the hot topics in Macon-Bibb County?’ They said, ‘Public Safety,’ he said. “It’s not just about getting boots on the ground, it’s community oriented too. But that’s usually the first thing they say. “

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True to his campaign promise, Miller’s first budget raised money for the sheriff’s department to give pay increases and improve the county jail.

But focusing on crime also meant for Miller focusing on the people who live with it, especially among the 25% of residents who live in poverty.

Over the winter, the mayor and the nine-member impartial committee moved to open free psychiatric hospitals in low-income neighborhoods, along with temporary shelter for the homeless.

“The problems are all interrelated,” Miller said. “If you draw a circle around the area where we set up the clinics, they are also the least educated, the least educated, the poorest, with food deserts, high crime or armed violence. So you work in the same cycle. “

While most mayors and city commissions are struggling to find money to cover bare necessities, Macon-Bibb County is said to be receiving $ 75 million from the American Rescue Plan, the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill that the Democrats propose Adopted by Congress earlier this year.

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do more than the bare minimum. Much more. On Tuesday evening, Miller and the commission decided to focus almost all of the first $ 18 million on crime or improving neighborhoods where crime is most prevalent.

First, they voted to make the temporary homeless shelter permanent. They also funded a $ 2 million violence prevention program, donated $ 5 million to clear some of the city’s 2,000 dilapidated lots, and additional money to move fresh grocery stores back to low-income neighborhoods lure that act as anchor shops.

After two months of listening sessions with the community, they will have a strategic plan to continue fighting crime for the next three years, which Miller said will be led partly “by the sheriff” and partly “by the community”.

When talking to Miller, it’s hard to tell whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican. When I told him that, he replied, “I’m not.”

“I avoid this topic because I really can’t change anything at the national level. In Macon-Bibb County, as mayor, I can only control what I can, and we will do the right thing for people regardless of party politics. “

While the Commission is technically impartial, it is politically and racially divided.

But the mayor pro-tem, Seth Clark, a Democrat, said that, like Miller, he had heard from voters in his historically black neighborhood, Pleasant Hill, that fighting crime was vital to them too.

“People care about the quality of life on their doorstep,” he said. “The violence in this community is real, as it is in any city our size across the country. We are experiencing what I believe is a public health crisis. “

But he also sees all-round services such as dealing with rot and filling up food desserts as an essential part of it.

Commissioner Raymond Wilder represents the conservative, rural part of Bibb County. He supports the mental health focus and fully funds the sheriff’s department.

“I make no secret of the fact that I am a conservative,” he said. “I have the feeling that we are all looking more closely at our common goals. I mean will it be perfect? No. But I have a very positive feeling about where the journey is going. “

As positive as it all sounds, it’s always easier to spend money than to cut programs. And the first six months of a government hardly give anyone time to mess around or get dirty, as always happens in politics, no matter how big the city is.

But the fact that Macon developed and financed ideas and did so with mostly unanimous approval is impressive.

Prior to becoming an elected Macon official, Seth Clark worked for the Atlanta Democrats from John Lewis to Michelle Nunn to Jason Carter. He ran high-level campaigns and fought high profile fights. He likes that better.

“After my work in state and state politics, I have never seen a spirit of cooperation be as successful as it is on site,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a honeymoon. I do not care. It feels really good. “

This article is the second in the AJC’s Georgia Politics Road Trip series, covering politics from the street across the state.