Nepotism, Cronyism, and the Cotton Avenue Mafia Rule Macon, GA

In an article I just published I mused why the Macon Bibb EOC Website has been down for at least a week and possibly much longer. Remember that this agency has close ties and connections with Cliffard Whitby that go back many years. Whitby’s mentor and some would say puppet master was Jimmie Samuels who led the EOC before he passed away. It was Samuels and Whitby that were behind the CGPICD (Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development) that bought the Ballard school building for peanuts on the dollar for about $250,000 and then managed to gouge millions out of the school system and sell it back to them just recently while getting yet another school property (Hamilton) for free.

Let’s hope the Bibb BOE does not plan to buy or lease Hamilton School that they just bestowed to Whitby anytime soon. I would strongly urge them to sever all ties with CGPICD and return to educating children in the schools we own.  If you need a refresher course on the Promise Neighborhood boondoggle where Whitby made a killing off of the taxpayers of Macon,GA look no further.

The Cotton Street Mafia also known as the Cotton Avenue Mafia has wielded tremendous power and influence in Macon for a very long time. At one time is was all an African-American group but more recently it is more about the color green $$$ than the color black and some would say Reichert is now an honorary member. Considering Reichert’s propensity to select people like Whitby, Hart, Tommy Barnes, and others for boards and jobs that is an easy leap to make.

The “godfathers” over the years have changed, but their mission remains largely unchanged which is to control politics and therefor the purse strings that awards grants and contracts and simply to have their members in positions of power and influence. Albert Billingslea was considered by many to be a previous leader of this group who passed away in 2011 and held weekly meeting on Cotton Ave. which likely gave rise to the name. Now the young turks like Cliffard Whitby are ready to take their turn at the helm. Though unlike the older generation of leaders they appear to have a goal far more self-serving than helping the community as a whole as evidenced by the unfair Promise Neighborhood deal which was financially very harmful to the Bibb School system.

Cliffard Whitby

Cliffard AKA Clifford Whitby.

Make no mistake, the Macon-Bibb EOC and Cliffard Whitby and his numerous shadowy groups with no websites or employees listed besides Whitby himself and his wife are very much tied at the hip. The new director that took over after Samuels died is named Sarita Hill. It would appear on the surface that Whitby is a very busy man. He runs numerous companies, boards, and organizations. In addition to Whitby Inc, Double UU Construction, 100 Black Men, The Macon Bibb Industrial Authority, Formerly head of the Promise Neighborhood Initiative to name but a few, he also is a tri-chair for the nebulous One Macon group.One Macon is yet another group that popped up with no real purpose other than to say they feel they are leaders and know what is best for us peasants in Bibb.

He also makes sure to find the time to donate regularly even if he sometimes misspells his own name it seems. Sometimes Cliffard is spelled with an A and sometimes with an O according to public donation records which is a big No No methinks. Notice the address of 1680 Broadway is at least consistent even if the various names and companies he uses changes to stay within limits of the law. Also notice that none of these groups he heads besides 100 Black Men have any website or record that they exist at all. 😯

To show you how far and how deep the Whitby-Samuel alliance goes I decided to post a few quotes from the minutes of the Bibb council minutes back in 2005. Apparently Samuel and Whitby were upset about Calvin Hicks getting fired.  I found it interesting that Tommy Barnes, the old Dallemand toadie who chaired the former BOE, also spoke at this same meeting just before these two spoke. Barnes has done his best to stay hidden after his public humiliation with Dallemand.
Next, Chairman Bishop called on Mr. Jimmie Samuel.

Mr. Samuel’s comments were as follows:

“Thank you, I want to speak on that same issue, Mr. Hicks. As most of you know, I’m coming as a citizen but I also direct Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council. We are in the Randall Building just as the Tax Assessors are. We’re upstairs in the Randall Building and had a good relationship and experience with Calvin before he became the Chief Appraiser and the office was reorganized.  Always professional guy and we had a very good relationship, I think, in terms of —- we have transitional houses in the County. We are a first-time homebuyer developer and we work together on various things. So, I echo what the gentleman just said before me. I’ll tell you that there’s a foul odor coming from that decision that was made down there and I’m not the only one smelling it. It’s all over the community and I would strongly recommend to you that a  full investigation be done about what happened there. I don’t know all the details, obviously, because I wasn’t in the meeting, I wasn’t there, they had some closed sessions.It doesn’t seem right at all to me and a lot of people I’ve talked to and this County is being disserved by these actions. Quite frankly for me, it smacks of impropriety and with racial overtones. It’s clear to me that regard. So, I think a serious investigation needs to occur and if it smells as bad after the investigation that whole crew that did that need to go.” Chairman Bishop thanked Mr. Samuel for his comments.

Next, Chairman Bishop called on Mr. Clifford Whitby.

Mr. Whitby’s comments were as follows:

“Good evening, gentlemen. I’m Clifford Whitby. I’m a local business owner here in Macon. I’m a developer, just an overall business person in the community, born and raised here. I would also like to speak on that subject but not just that subject, just the overall current situation we have in Bibb County and the surrounding counties in general because we all live here, this is home for all of us. As I said earlier, I was born and raised here. As I listened to my good friend, Mr. Barnes speak about the issues with the Board of Education and the gentleman speak as a realtor and a businessperson, doing business in the County, and Mr. Samuel, who I know very well also, it just strikes me as somewhat odd that, you fine gentlemen sit here, just recently elected to serve and as Mr. Samuel said, we’re in the community. I’m in the community everyday and listening to the complaints and the concerns of the citizens of this community who you serve. To be quite honest, we have very difficult issues to address as a community, as a whole. We recognize that you have a tough job, we recognize that you have tough decisions but, quite frankly, you positioned yourself or you vowed for those seats that you’re sitting in, so to say it’s tough is really not an excuse to me. As this gentleman said earlier, I had dealings with Calvin as well. It hadn’t always gone the way I thought but just as he said, I felt like I had my day when I spoke with him and when we addressed the issue. I think that we have to honestly look at what’s in the best interest of this community as a whole and to do that, sometimes you have to come back and do some things that will offend some people or cause some disruption in the flow, but I don’t think its an understatement to say that we’re in challenging times here in Bibb County and I think courageous leadership is needed now by the people that asked to serve this community. We don’t know the whole story, but we know Calvin. We know the professionalism he’sdemonstrated as he held that office. I go all over the state and this guy is very well represented. I was in Birmingham, Alabama and one of the guys came up and said, “you guys let Calvin go.” As Jimmie said, it just don’t smell good and we want some answers. We really want to know what happened, why and we want to know what’s going to be done to correct it, thank you.” Chairman Bishop thanked Mr. Whitby for his comments.

Calvin Hicks moved on to Augusta and then Dekalb county. It seems like Bibb county dodged a bullet by firing him when they did. Just ask these Brookhaven home owners in Dekalb who got their six-figure increases in their 2012 property appraisals by Hicks. But the reason I included those quotes above had little to do with Calvin Hicks and rather shows the close coordination between Jimmie Samuels and Cliffard Whitby. Whether Calvin Hicks was a horrible or excellent tax assessor is irrelevant to the fact that Whitby and Samuels often coordinated their attacks and worked together.

There are many other instances where they planned coordinated attacks where they felt their interest were threatened for example with the Promise Neighborhood.  The other connection that keeps popping us is the 100 Black Men organization. Notice the list of names on that list of directors. A regular movers and shakers of Macon directory. A few names were involved with the technology scandal with Dallemand like Isaac Culver who heads Progressive Consulting. This was the company front and center with the questionable Dallemand technology purchases of worthless crap that sits in a warehouse unused. This list is 2008 but at the document further down from 2012 you can see that Sam hart joined them as a director as he also joined Whitby on the Macon Bibb Industrial Authority even though neither man would be typical appointees to a developmental agency given their educational and business backgrounds.

100 black men macon

Whitby has been making allies and enemies in Macon for quite a while. Unlike Samuels who largely preferred to play it low key and away from the media spotlight, Whitby loves cameras and publicity. Perhaps Whitby thinks of himself as the dapper Don and has never seen a camera he wasn’t afraid to pose with his hand touching his chin and furrowed brows.

Sam Hart was also a beneficiary of the “Whitby Bump”. Sam Hart, Dallemand’s old next door neighbor and supporter thankfully lost his bid to become mayor. But welcome to Macon where nepotism and cronyism will get you appointed to boards and various agencies far quicker than your résumé´or skills.

Lose an election? No problem…. There are plenty of boards where you can take a seat and don’t have to worry about those pesky voters who hoped you would disappear. Just kiss up to Mayor Reichert and you are all set. It doesn’t seem Reichert ever wants to open up nominations to the 150,000 or so people in Bibb he doesn’t personally know or are in his immediate circle. That is why you keep seeing the same tired old faces shuffled between boards and agencies with never any new blood. If Reichert doesn’t know you then you don’t exist it seems. This is why you never see new blood in these jobs.

Hart soon joined Whitby on the Industrial Authority. Hart was also appointed to the Water Authority as well. Hart is also the president of S & V Education Systems where the S stands for Sam and the V stands for Virgil as in Virgil Adams of 100 Black Men fame who like Whitby stays busy in Macon politics. A very good read on a potential conflict of interest can be found here More Conflict of Interest for Hart.

Another former Reichert adversary and political loser for a BOE seat, The Reverend James Bumpus,  was also placated by a questionable appointment as the Director of Small Business Affairs. Bumpus has ties to many other boards which brings him squarely into the incestuous relationships that have plagued Macon for decades and is but another example of this small group that plays musical chairs amongst themselves instead of ever bringing in new blood who God forbid might have new ideas. To the mayor and commission I hope you realize there are a lot of qualified people in Bibb able and willing to serve that you may not know. Here is a wild idea, open up the process and allow nominations from the community and you might be surprised. You don’t have to keep picking from the same pool of 30 or so as that water is now very much contaminated. 

The Board of the Macon Bibb Industrial Authority is but one example of how old boy politics in Macon is preventing Macon from progressing. The Mayor should not even be on the board and he certainly should not appoint nearly the entire board. Why isn’t there more input from the community or businesses? Is there anyone on the board multilingual or that has lived overseas that would be better able to advise with Asian and European companies for example?

Similar authorities in other counties have a good collection of competent representatives with diverse qualifications and résumés. They also use the name Development Agency instead of the oddball name of Industrial Authority which makes zero sense as to what it does to prospective companies. Bibb also has eight members on our Board of Education instead of an odd number as all other counties. It seems Bibb likes to go it’s own way. Well, how has that worked so far given our stagnation the last few decades?

Laurens County is a good example of what a good developmental agency can do to provide jobs and growth. Although far smaller in population, Laurens County has a much more impressive track record at attracting companies. That starts with a good website unlike the one in Bibb which is sparse. They provide far more detailed information to visitors than the pathetic one in Bibb. Laurens County also seems able to appoint people to their board that aren’t failed candidates for Mayor or members of the Water Authority or self-professed entrepreneurs with no actual business that doesn’t involve government contracts.  Is it any wonder why Laurens County are kicking Macon’s ass at recruiting new companies? But the same can be said for Athens, Savannah, Columbus, Rome, Augusta, and many more. Take a look at their websites and the quality of their developmental boards and you can understand why they are growing and Macon isn’t.

I recently tried to contact the Macon Bibb authority with some questions a typical prospective company might ask and all my emails were ignored. I also tried calling and could not reach anyone on the phone after several attempts. I finally got a lady on the phone who seemed very annoyed that I had disturbed her and was curt and extremely unhelpful. If that is the response other people contacting this agency can expect I now understand why they choose to do business largely in other parts of the state or the nation.

Putting All The Pieces of The Puzzle Together

If there is any one central idea I hope you will all take away from this article I hope it is that Macon is stagnating largely because of the cronyism, nepotism, incompetence, and probably widespread corruption among a very small group of central players that seems to get shuffled around from various groups, charities, organizations, and political offices. As I stated above it is a game of musical chairs with the same pathetic people who fail at one job but then magically get appointed to a new board or authority to do it all over again. Unless the Mayor and Commission actively seek out entirely new blood nothing will change.

They continue to appoint each other, award contracts only to members of their group and pat each other on the back for all the hard work while Macon largely stagnates. They find ways to justify boondoggles like museums, the Promise Neighborhood, useless road expansions, and so much other waste while ignoring the big picture or having any sort of real plan for growth or beautification. There is no long-term growth plan like other cities. They simply move from one crisis to the next with band-aids while Bibb county suffers from multiple broke bones. We need casts not band-aids. Start including the citizens of Bibb in the big decisions. Seek out our feedback and listen to it! Winning an election does not mean you then get a free pass to do as you like until the next election. 

This same cabal of people have largely gone unnoticed by the local media not because they are unaware but are largely complicit and perfectly happy with the status quo. Rarely will you ever see an in-depth article that asks why so many other cities have been growing and Bibb has not.  Occasionally when competing factions of the Cotton Avenue Mafia consortium have feuds we get a small glimpse of the members and their agenda but nothing ever changes. They kiss and make up and Bibb continues to stagnate.

If Macon and Bibb county truly want to move forward we have to all do our part and throw out most of these bums in office that have led us to the precipice. But we also need a new group of leaders of all races to step up and lead us from this abyss. The level of nepotism in Macon on all levels with these various groups is truly sickening. The only chance Macon possibly has to thrive is to move as far away as possible from all these various groups and individuals who have been spending our tax money so unwisely for far too long. It is time for all the people who have stayed on the sidelines to step up and run for office and to let their voices be heard.

We need more transparency and a local government interested in working with and in the best interest of the entire community instead of padding the wallets of the same small cabal of elites who have grown fat at the taxpayer trough. The rest of us have plodded along none the wiser and we deserve what we got for our apathy and indifference. This is not about race as this group of elites includes members all races. They are a politically and racially diverse equal opportunity group of abusers intent on staying in power. New blood is the only cure for what ails Macon. And until we get that, we need to hold the current ones accountable for their decisions.

I do not pretend to know all of the members of the Cotton Avenue mafia that largely control our finances and continue with wasteful and worthless boondoggles with the sole purpose to pad their bank accounts. But I do know that Macon needs a huge cleansing. Whether it takes a police forensic audit, a more concerned media that decides to actually look into all the corruption and cronyism, or something as simple as some dynamic new personalities that decide to run and defeat the current crop of geezer miscreants that have remained so oblivious to the problems for far too long. There are sparks of hope. People like Al Tillman and Mallory Jones have impressed me as men of character and integrity not so easily bullied into stepping in line.

Make no mistake, corruption, greed, and just plain incompetence is not limited to one race or skin color. Macon and Bibb have had plenty of white people in power the last few decades that are more responsible than anyone for our stagnation and deterioration with so many boondoggles and lost opportunities. My criticism of nepotism in Macon has ZERO to do with race at all and I want to make that point abundantly clear. This is about incumbents and an entrenched and incestuous power structure and not about race. Blacks, Whites, Asian, and Latinos must all unite against our common enemy which is our own apathy if Macon is to ever reverse course. But we also need courageous partners in city hall open to new ideas. The fact that their main email bounces and they do not reply to direct emails phone calls, twitter, or Facebook messages is not a good sign that they wish to engage or hear from their constituents.

Some time ago I made numerous attempts by calls, emails, Facebook, and Twitter to allow our local leaders a chance to explain their vision of Macon moving forward. I finally resorted to an Open Letter asking for their input. To this day all attempts to get a comment have been ignored. In fact I also pointed out that their main email contact contact@maconbibb.us does not even work. If you email the Macon-Bibb Commission this is the reply you will receive.

Technical details of permanent failure:
Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the server for the recipient domain maconbibb.us bymail.powerviewmail.com. [204.9.77.40].

The error that the other server returned was:
550 5.1.1 <contact@maconbibb.us> User unknown; rejecting

How poignantly apropos to have a dysfunctional email account for a largely dysfunctional local governement. Georgia is the most corrupt state in the country and I doubt few would be the least bit surprised if Macon was among the most corrupt communities in the state. As long as the current crop of greedy geezers and their acolytes in training have their way don’t expect a resurgence in Macon anytime soon. They plan on playing musical chairs amongst themselves with appointments for many more years to come.

Perhaps the strongest weapon as citizen we have in our arsenal to try and fight back are the Georgia Sunshine Laws.  Attend meetings, encourage transparency and discourage executive sessions which are an excuse for back room deals.  Make video recordings and post to Youtube, demand free and easy access to minutes of meetings in standard formats, ask questions and let them know of your concerns.Submit open record requests when you have reason to believe ethics violations or malfeasance are a possibility.

Also please contact us here if you know of stories of public officials abusing their office and other stories of importance.

Perhaps the real Macon Miracle is yet to arrive and it will only happen when the citizens of Macon-Bibb of all races unite and decide enough is enough and we are tired of losing population and stagnating and having important decisions made by the same group of losers that led us into the mess. We need an Urban Meyer not a Mike Smith. Isn’t 30 losing season enough of a reason to try some new ideas?

100 Black Men of Macon- Middle Georgia Inc.

As I mentioned above, this group seems to play a key role in terms of grant and contract monies dispersed in Bibb. Below I have included the 990-EZ form of 100 Black Men. See if you can notice a few familiar names that joined the group in 2012. Note that this group is exempt from income tax. Also please note that on question 46 where it asks if the organization engaged in any political campaign activities they answered No.

Also take note where they detail their expenses and the amount actually spent on “at-risk youth” versus miscellaneous expenses that include trips, seminars, contract labor, “Professional fees”, catering, charitable donations, and other expenses. It seems the students are not a big priority when it comes to disbursement of the funds. The only real item mentioned to meet their stated goal that I could pick out was a small mention of 1 college scholarship and a career fair for 3,000 students.

Their website also looks extremely outdated and largely abandoned with little information on the students or people in the community they are supposedly helping. It reminds me of Websites you used to see when Mosaic was the browser of choice. If you have no idea what Mosaic is….that is my point.

I want to stress that this is not an indictment of the entire 100 Black Men organization or even of the one in Macon. The vast majority of the members have little to no involvement with the inner workings of this group and simply lent their names to the membership and may give donations or attend the odd event once in a while. Some of the 100 probably do not even realize they are members any longer. I am speaking more of the leadership and director list and not the organization or mission statement.

I do think it would be more appropriate in the year 2015 to open their membership to all races and indeed all genders. I would hope they realize the message of such an exclusionary name sends in this day and age. Imagine the outrage if a group tried to form 100 White Men of Macon and did not allow other races to join even if their goal was to help at-risk impoverished Caucasian students. It may appear to be a good cause but exclusion does not magically provide immunity from perceived racial undertones. Poverty is endemic and a huge problem among all races in Bibb county and we must not focus only on one race if we are to make a dent. Help all races and accept the help of any race that wants to lend a helping hand. 

Race exclusionary groups are a remnant of the past that belong in the past if we are to move forward as a nation and a city. All people regardless of race deserve help and mentors and I do not think it appropriate to discriminate against people who may wish to help young African-American males simply because of their skin color.  I would strongly encourage this group to consider a name change if they also ever decide to update their antique website. How about 1,000 Young Men to allow the name to reflect the identities of the boys they want to help and open it to all races both for the boys and the mentors.  I would hope a similar group could be formed for girls as well. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 8.04.09 PMOh and just in case you wondered where 100 Black Men of Macon was located, take a wild guess. If you said 1680 Broadway which also holds the offices of Whitby Inc, Whitby Construction, Whitby’s Double UU Construction, Whitby Investments, Macon-Bibb EOC Head Start, Bert Bivins as a Self-Employed Contractor according to the Donations records, Office Work Force Development Computers and Networking and likely several more groups and individuals you win the prize.

Welcome to Double U Business Development Center. Perhaps it is time that the Cotton Avenue Mafia changed their name to the Broadway Mafia? Nah, that would get too confusing with thoughts of musicals in New York. 😆

 

 

 

 

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