Michael Caputo

GPB Macon Bureau Chief

As Macon Bureau Chief, Caputo works with a team of journalists to tell the daily stories of the region. He hosts All Things Considered and works with an innovative effort to teach young journalists about the craft through the Center for Collaborative Journalism on the campus of Mercer University.

Ways to Connect

Evan Vucci / AP Photo

The Trump administration unveiled its proposed 2018 budget Thursday morning. Unsurprisingly, the budget calls for significant increases in military and border security spending while dramatically reducing the funding for a number of other government agencies.

Several of those cuts, including reductions at the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will affect a variety of Georgia-based programs that receive federal funding.

Bonita Johnson suffers with the lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Twice she went to the hospital emergency room because she had trouble breathing, the last time about a year ago. That ER was in Monroe County Hospital in Forsyth.

It was all business at a conference room in the Macon Centerplex. Six staffers from the Insure Georgia program sat behind laptop computers. They are Affordable Care Act navigators, working to sign up people for insurance under the federal exchange during this one-day event.

Rodney Dawson stood in his peanut field off of Route One-Twelve in Hawkinsville. In a normal year, the vines would be knee-high and the foliage would fully cover the dirt.  But Dawson says this year is not normal. In fact, it’s one of the worst in his 30-plus years of growing peanuts.

“Right here we see distressed plants,” said Rodney Dawson, who is also a board member for the Georgia Peanut Commission. “There (is) a lot of yellow tint to them, where they should be lush and green.”

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Dr. Jean Sumner, dean of Mercer University's School of Medicine, stood at the front of a classroom addressing two dozen high school students.

"Welcome to med school,” Sumner said, as the young people giggled. This is a project started by Sumner and her team at the medical school. And it's all about trying to identify and attract applicants from rural Georgia.

A small, white bungalow off a main road in Macon represents a more aggressive response by Macon-Bibb County health officials to teen pregnancy.

“This is the lab,” said Bibb County Health Administrator Nancy White, as she tours her department’s new teen health center. “We will do pregnancy testing and STD testing here.”

They’ll not only administer tests but county health officials will provide free birth control to teenagers. Georgia law allows minors 12 years of age and older to access birth control without parental consent. 

Grant Blankenship / GPB

People mill about Luther Williams Field – usually a dormant minor league park. These aren’t baseball fans. They’re extras on the set of a new TV series starring Hank Azaria. The name of the stadium is now Morristown Field for a fictitious Pennsylvania team.

The series, “Brockmire,” features a famous but down-on-his-luck baseball announcer. Jason Underwood, location manager for the series, said he needed a minor league baseball field and Atlanta simply didn’t have one.

Courtesy National Park Service

The Ocmulgee Mounds are an archeological treasure in Middle Georgia. The Native American earth lodges that are part of the mounds date back to 900 A.D. Yet the Macon mounds remain intact and serve as a testament to those ancient cultures. 

There is a movement afoot in Congress to change the name of the national monument to "Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park." The bill in Congress would also expand the site from 700 acres to 2800 acres. 

Selling beer in Georgia isn’t easy. Brewers face a host of restrictions, but restaurants that make their own beer may have found a way around state law, with the help of local government ordinances. 

First, you need to know the difference between a brewery and a brewpub. Both make beer, but state law caps the amount a brewpub can churn out. That’s because they’re supposed to primarily serve food and beverages.

As part of our Listening Post project, GPB Macon has asked listeners to share what makes you curious. The newsroom collects these questions and tries to answer as many as we can.

One question we tackled was this: What does it take to get a street renamed in Macon-Bibb County?

The first aspect worth noting is that many of the streets that are renamed have a connection to the spiritual.

Will there be classes at a troubled Macon charter school after all?

Last week the Macon Charter Academy announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A written statement from the school's attorney, Atlanta-based Joel Callins, said:

Macon Charter Academy is hopeful that the reorganization process will facilitate the removal of the school’s probation status with the State of Georgia Department of Education, and plans to resume normal recruitment and enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year.

Later in the statement, Callins writes:

In February Macon-Bibb county commissioners agreed to take $4.5 million and spend it on 15 blighted projects in the county. One commissioner called the move historic.  Building an arts village in Mill Hill, tearing down blighted homes in Village Green and Tindall Heights, all of these projects were part of the initial outlay of blight money by Macon-Bibb County. There's still a little less than half of the $10 million borrowed for blight projects.  So, where do things stand today with battling blight? Cass Hatcher, hired by Macon-Bibb as a blight consultant, addressed that issue. 

Atlanta has shown that development around a sports stadium doesn't always work. The Vine City section of Atlanta did not turn around when the Georgia Dome opened in 1992. But there may be another chance at that with a new stadium being built near the Dome.  Meanwhile in Macon local officials have begun studying whether this community should build a new minor league stadium downtown. Last week local officials toured South Carolina's cities of Columbia and Greenville and they hope to learn how the new stadiums improve the local economy there.

In less than three weeks people will head to the polls. One of the races on the ballot: The sheriff of Macon-Bibb County. David Davis holds that job now. Challenging Davis are two former law enforcement officers, Mike Smallwood and Tim Rivers. We invited Davis, Smallwood and Rivers for "Off the Cuff" conversations here at GPB Macon. 

GPB’s Michael Caputo first spoke with Smallwood and asked about why he’s running for the job.

Mike Smallwood: Well actually I love law enforcement. I still love the sheriff's office. And I think I can make a difference.

It’s odd to find a polling site at a bus station. But Macon-Bibb election officials have done just that. Last Friday they had a ribbon-cutting for an early voting place at the back of terminal station downtown. Bus rider Tom O’Keefe says this might be convenient.  

“If I knew if I was here and I had to wait on a bus for 30 minutes and that (it) was open I would vote,” said O’Keefe. 

A program in Macon-Bibb County that pays the down payment for Macon homes is going to expand. The target is the Bealls Hill neighborhood, a place that used to be downtrodden but is now revitalized. Twenty-thousand dollar down payments are provided as Mercer matches Knight Foundation money. So far since 2007, about a third of the project has been bought with this assistance. Now, Historic Macon wants to expand to other businesses who might match that Knight money. GPB's Michael Caputo talked with Ethiel Garlington of Historic Macon about the effort. 

A Bibb County judge's tough-talk to at-risk children has gone viral. As of Friday evening, roughly 150,000 people have viewed the 10-minute discussion by Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin to about 20 kids in a Bibb County courtroom. GPB Macon's Michael Caputo spoke with Judge Colvin about her motivation to give the difficult speech to these children.

Michael Caputo: So what program brought you in these 20 or so kids together in that courtroom a couple of days ago. 

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Bill Fickling sat on his front porch in the Ingleside neighborhood of Macon.

 

He pointed beyond the cherry blossom trees, well-known to those who live in the city. Through the woods is a house.

 

“The burglars were actually using that as a hide out, apparently that house is vacant,” said Fickling.

The Georgia General Assembly's work is done. Legislators must now run for re-election. Well, most of them. More than a dozen are actually going to retire. Among them Nikki Randall of Macon. So why are they leaving? And is it because of the salaries these part time lawmakers get?  To answer that question GPB Macon’s Michael Caputo brought in Chris Grant a political science professor for Mercer University. 

Michael Caputo: So these are supposed to be part time jobs. Are they really part time jobs? 

The up and down fortunes of a charter school in Macon have taken a turn for the worse. The Telegraph's Jeremy Timmerman has reported that the State Department of Education has begun the process to close the Macon Charter Academy. GPB Macon's Michael Caputo talked with Timmermen 

Michael Caputo: Tell us what you've learned. 

Jeremy Timmerman:  Well no problem coming in. It's really it's kind of something that a lot of people have seen coming and of course everybody's always quick when something like this happens, "you know it was coming" but it's been. 

David Goldman / AP

Governor Nathan Deal has vetoed the so-called Religious Freedom bill, saying that he wants to keep Georgia "a welcoming state."

The number of pedestrian deaths has risen in Georgia.  

The state Office of Highway Safety confirms that last year the number of people hit and killed by cars increased by 21 percent from 2014. Office Director Harris Blackwood: 

'We had a terrible year last year,' said Harris Blackwood, the director of the Office of Highway Safety. 'There's no other way to describe it. We went back to levels we hadn't seen since 2008'

The hospital in Sandersville - Washington County Regional Medical Center - serves thousands of people in east central Georgia.

 

But, like so many hospitals in rural Georgia, it runs in the red. That's because of a combination of poor management decisions and struggles common to health care facilities in less populated areas.

Grant Blankenship / Georgia Public Broadcasting

 

Clay Murphey, a project manager for Macon Bibb County, walked through an eight-foot-high stormwater culvert under a busy intersection. As sloshed through three inches of water, Murphey ran a hand along a jagged crack in the dusty red brick.

"This is the stuff we're concerned about. These large cracks," Murphey said. “You got seepage that's coming from above. That shouldn't be happening. Everytime you're seeping, you are washing away the mortar that's holding this brick in place.”

Then Murphey pointed down to brick rubble lying in the water.