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District 1 incumbent Anissa Jones defends her gerrymandering claim as her challenger Eleanor Welch is sidelined by injury

MACON, Ga. — The Macon Water Authority District 1 seat is one of two MWA races on the May 24 nonpartisan ballot.

Incumbent Anissa Jones said she was happy to be able to share her reasons for running for re-election in a taped interview for the Center for Collaborative Journalism. Her opponent, Eleanor Welch was not able to accept the CCJ invitation because of health issues she said were related to an injury suffered in March while working as an educational aide at the Macon Regional Youth Detention Center, Welch said.

So far, the candidates have not been able to face off at any forums or events during the campaign, Jones said.

As the authority is well into its second year of stormwater management, facing crumbling infrastructure and complicated flooding issues, CCJ journalists wanted to help voters learn more about the candidates before going to the polls.

Anissa Jones

When growing up in east Macon’s Fort Hill neighborhood, Anissa Jones’ ambition propelled her to succeed.

“I knew that that’s what I wanted for myself was to do more,” Jones said. “And the only way that you can really see a city progressively get to the place where you want it to be, you’ve got to get your hands dirty, which means you got to get out there. You got to serve and serve willingly and significantly.”

Jones, who has added Aiken to her name after recently marrying her husband, Deon, is Macon’s first African American chiropractor. She calls herself a “serial entrepreneur” owning the Pink Chief Boutique, Pink Confetti Rentals and Vanguard Motor Group, according to her MWA bio.

The 50-year-old author of “From Trauma to Triumph,” her life lessons of overcoming and starting over, ran for her first term on the authority to increase economic development, she said.

“My thing is, I think Macon has a poverty issue. And if we can get more lucrative businesses to come here to our city now, we have more livable wages that folks can have for jobs, and now we can increase their capacity. And that could be for education, capacity for growth for their family, capacity for health care. All of those things change when you have the money to be able to afford certain things.”

Right now, Jones is renovating a building on Cherry Street with the help of NewTown Macon, where she serves on the board.

“I bought that property on Cherry Street to house my businesses,” she said.

“That was the whole point was to start paying myself rent and not pay someone else.”

Former MWA District 2 representative Desmond Brown, who is running for MWA chairman, accuses his former colleagues of “gerrymandering” the district lines to include Jones’ move to Cherry Street. She will likely live in a loft above the business, but that is not a certainty, she said.

“It was kind of baffling for me when it came out like it did, saying that it was something somebody was doing for me,” Jones said. “I just really believe that this is a ploy to get attention and so that people can hear what he has to say. But nobody did anything for me.”

What voters may not know is that Jones and her mother have been doing things for others for years, she said.

For the past 10 years, they carried on the Anita Ponder & Friends Holiday Feast at Christmas after the former Macon City Council president moved away.

“It’s me and my momma that’s put that on every year and we just are uplifting Anita’s name with it, and we are proud to do so,” she said.

Jones said she was reluctant to have the Macon Water Authority assume responsibility for stormwater management because of the “deplorable” conditions of the existing infrastructure, long neglected by the city and county in prior years.

“It was the best decision for the citizens of Macon-Bibb, including myself, that a company that already has been tried and true on taking care of our water, taking care of our sewage… in an award-winning manner, was the only option to get our stormwater to that same type of level,” Jones said.

The biggest challenge the authority faces is making sure ratepayers understand the necessity for stormwater management and fees to fund it, she said.

Jones will be looking for extra funding to reduce stormwater fees and “make sure that when water comes out of the sky that it is flowing back to the Ocmulgee River without causing harm or danger to any of our homes, or our vehicles on the way.”

She feels she is the best candidate to represent District 1 because she has the business sense to help run the multi-million-dollar utility and draws on her MBA in international business to decipher pension documents and complicated contracts.

“I think most people really don’t understand all of the requirements that it really takes to sit on a board of this magnitude. It’s not just about voting yay or nay,” she said. “And so, if you don’t have that kind of background, it’s really not an on-the-job-training kind of position.”

Eleanor Welch

Eleanor Welch is running for the Macon Water Authority to bring positive changes to District 1.

From relieving financially-strapped, COVID-era churches, to enhancing the friendliness of customer service, Welch said there’s work to be done.

The 54-year-old educational aide for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice shared her concern that some churches are struggling to pay the new stormwater fees the utility began collecting this year.

“With my expertise and strategies to accumulate funds, this method, and program will lift this burden off all churches in Macon, Georgia and surrounding counties,” Welch wrote in response to a CCJ general questionnaire about her candidacy and life.

She has lived in Macon about 44 years and has never been elected to office.

Welch is the founder and CEO of Higher Learning Tutoring Service and serves as minister of music and assistant pastor of Healing Temple/Revival of Power in Milledgeville, according to her candidate questionnaire.

“These (stormwater) fees are somewhat of a burden to the church due to the fact that COVID-19 left most churches empty. This move left the church in a financial strain which means some of our churches and ministries in Macon, Georgia, are still struggling financially,” Welch wrote in her questionnaire response.

In a text message to The Macon Newsroom, Welch explained she was not able to participate in videotaped interviews of the candidates.

“I was injured on the job at Macon RYDC (DJJ) on March 15, 2022. The injury was sooooo devastating to the point that my ability to go back to my normal activities has been hindered,” Welch texted.

Glenn Allen, communications director for the Department of Juvenile Justice, did confirm Welch is a DJJ employee on leave, but would not share any other details about how she was hurt.

Welch did not respond to additional emailed questions for this candidate profile.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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