ALBANY — When Albany Police Chief Michael Persley announced a couple of months ago the multi-agency Fight Against Blight program being initiated in the city, he noted the urgency in the program.
City Manager Sharon Subadan added a little teeth to that urgency a short while later when she asked the Albany City Commission to approve a new position in City Attorney Nathan Davis’ office that would provide Davis and his staff much-needed help in the abatement process that is required for the city to make any headway in tearing down or forcing renovations on substandard structures.
On July 18, former Dougherty County District Attorney’s Office Investigator Makeba Wright was hired by the city to fill the position that Davis says is a godsend.
“Did I ask for help in this area?” Davis offered as a tongue-in-cheek reply to a question. “How about begged and pleaded? How about showing you the scars on my knees from all that begging?”
That lighter moment aside, Davis said Wright has the background and the capacity to hit the ground running in a program that should greatly impact the community’s planned blight fight.
“The big thing with Ms. Wright is her six years in the district attorney’s office,” Davis said. “I know it’s cliche to say someone can hit the ground running, but she can definitely do that. She knows the names, the people involved over in the Courthouse. She’s familiar with how things get down over there, where you have to go and who you have to talk to.
“Between Makeba and Stacie Mote, our other paralegal in the office, I think the city is going to see more get done as we try to streamline the abatement process.”
Indeed, Mote noted that with Wright on board for only two weeks, the city attorney’s office had managed to move 11 properties through the court system for possible renovation or demolition orders in the month of July. That compares with a typical monthly average of six or seven.
“I think what you’re going to see is increased efficiency,” Davis said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re still going to follow the procedures outlined in state law: the certified mail notice, the court date, the opportunity for homeowners to fix up their property to required standards. That procedure should be followed.
“But with the additional support from someone who is experienced in investigations, that should make all of us more efficient.”
Wright, an Albany native and graduate of Darton State College, Albany State University and Albany Technical College, said she sought the position with the city primarily for financial reasons, but she said she already feels welcome in the city attorney’s office.
“When I stepped in the door of this office, I was met with such professionalism,” Wright, who was recently named one of Southwest Georgia’s 40 Under 40 young professionals, said. “The atmosphere here is overwhelmingly pleasant and refreshing, and my experience so far is that this is definitely an organization I want to be a part of.”
Ward III City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said Wright is the kind of employee the city is now trying to hire.
“I’m proud of Makeba for her recent award, but I’m proud of the city and the city attorney’s office, too,” Fletcher said. “What they’ve shown the community is that we’re working toward hiring the caliber of employee that’s going to allow us to turn our city around.”
After graduating Westover High School, Wright held a number of jobs — finance accountant at Procter & Gamble, occupational aid at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, massage therapist — while working to get her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice from Darton and ASU, respectively. She got her first taste of law enforcement as a private investigator for Albany attorney Pete Donaldson, then worked her way through that field with the Dougherty County Police Department, as a peace officer at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport and finally as an investigator in the district attorney’s office.
“I’d thought at times over my adult life of becoming a heart doctor, but the reality was that that was too much school for a girl who’d grown up in ‘The Field’ area of South Albany,” Wright said. “And, while I know this sounds like a made-up story, when I saw some unmarked cars pull up to a house in my neighborhood and some guys jump out with guns drawn, and residents started running out of the house in all directions, when one of those guys walked out of the house holding up big baggies of what turned out to be marijuana, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Wright said the highlight of her professional career so far has been her work as an Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit officer while working with DCP.
“Hey, what you see on TV, it’s like that,” Wright said. “When you’re involved in a high-speed chase, what a rush! There’s adrenaline pumping like crazy, and you know there’s an element of danger every day you put on the gun, the badge and the uniform. You never know how your day will pan out; it’s something new every day.”
Still, Wright said she’s proud that her career path has moved steadily upward.
“When I worked with DCP, I saw another side of life, the law enforcement perspective, although the volume of calls was not great,” she said. “With the Drug Unit, there was this other side where things were always happening. Then, with the DA’s office, there was this overwhelming pool of chaos. Now, working with the city attorney’s office, it’s like I’ve come full-circle in law enforcement.”
Wright eventually became a nationally-certified firefighter while working at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, earning an associate’s degree in Fire Science at Albany Tech, and she’s completed requirements for her master’s degree in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
She’s currently working on her Ph.D. in that specialty from Walden University in Minnesota.
“I’m adjusting to the huge amount of paperwork required in this office,” Wright said of her new position. “I’ve been working on affidavits, legal research, getting up to speed on abatement work. I haven’t been here long, but I feel like this was a good fit for me. I think I’m going to like working with multiple agencies to try and make significant changes in our community.
“It hit me while I was working with DCP and in the DA’s office, but in my few days here my eyes have really been opened to how I can play a part in helping my hometown grow into the place we all want it to be.”