For New Commissioners: Every new commissioner is asked to make decisions about issues and areas of expertise that are new to them. How will you navigate your responsibility to direct staff on policy rather than taking staff direction on policy? Explain how you see your role as a commissioner in relation to the county administrator and staff.
For Incumbents: The City conducted a review of the MMTD ordinance (completed March 2019), prepared an urban forest master plan, (completed September 2018) and initiated a rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan (2015). All of these involved many hours of citizen input and have a direct effect on how we grow. Yet, the ordinance changes recommended in the MMTD review and the urban forest master plan have not been brought to the City Commission for policy review and implementation. The Comprehensive Plan rewrite is completely stalled. As a City Commissioner, how do you explain these situations?
The MMTD ordinance, the urban forest master plan, and the Comprehensive Plan have not been brought to the Commission for review and approval. I did not realize that the City had gotten that far behind. I will ask the City Manager where those issues are and when they would be brought back to the Commission. The pandemic has put a crimp in everything.
Most commissioners are not professional planners. They need to take some advice from planners and other staff. But a commissioner also needs to balance staff advice with citizen expectations. Tallahassee needs more public engagement, not just a first and only meeting. There needs to be a straightforward give and take of ideas to make sure significant and meaningful discussion takes place. Let the people talk; those three minutes of live presentation are powerful. Commissioners should not make major decisions without live public input. Tallahassee has its own planning department and there are lots of citizen advisory boards. But when affected residents can’t get on the boards the advice provided is political friends and allies not community advice. Commissioners need to have integrity to put people who are affected on these boards, not just friends or contributors. Tallahassee needs more input from citizens. The Commission needs to listen. The commissioners work for city residents.
Group 1 – At Large
As a Board member, I would have staff provide me the background information on the issue. Then I would do my own research. As an attorney, research is not foreign to me. I would do my homework. I would take into consideration all the citizens of Leon County. As for the relationship with the County Administrator, I do not see the relationship so much as the Board being “over” staff as working “with” them. Staff may bring issues to the Board, or the Board may ask staff to bring things to them. I would not rubberstamp anything. I would give deference to staff’s experience, but not total deference. I would not be a divisive force; I prefer to seek compromise. I have not attended many meetings. I read the summaries as published in the newspaper. I have reviewed budgets.
I have served on many boards including: Legal Services of North Florida, the Lincoln Neighborhood Foundation, Bethel Empowerment Program, and the Tallahassee Urban League. I have volunteered with the National Achievers’ Society through the Leon County School Board, the NAACP legal redress committee, and volunteered legal services through the Tallahassee Senior Center. My emphasis in my volunteer work has been on helping youth and the elderly, as well as previously incarcerated persons. I received the Florida Supreme Court’s Pro Bono Service Award for the First District, which encompasses six counties.
I have worked with over 63 boards, including Oasis, PACE, and Refuge House. Every year I volunteer to help a non-profit organization deal with organizational issues. I have worked for boards, served on boards, and conducted training. I am very clear about the roles of the board vis-à-vis staff. The Board needs to provide clear policy direction. I am very sensitive to staff not moving into the policy role.
I support holding listening sessions in every quadrant of the County each quarter. Integrity is very important to me. I have known Vince Long for the entire time I have been in Tallahassee. He is good person and a great father. He is in a difficult political situation dealing with all the Board members. I am alert to that. I have attended many, many meetings over the years because the agencies I worked for always had local government funding. I served on a committee for the Human Services Partnership. I drafted the documents establishing the Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and served as chair for its first two years.
You come into the commission with certain skills and abilities. The Comp Plan was confusing at first, but I dug in and educated myself in that area. There are staff that are trustworthy and some not. Commissioners receive over 1500 pages on average for Board books. I have been in all 50 states and most Florida counties, and Leon County has one of the best staff in the country. Some staff may try to shade things, but that does not happen much anymore.
The Comprehensive Plan rewrite is stalled. We are hiring people to get through this. Not so much stalled, as trying to figure out what the end game is. It is time to have it rewritten and reworked. I am proud of the current work in progress. I would lean in on the Mobility section of the Comp Plan. We should not take on any significant sized projects without connectivity and knowing what mobility paths will be used. This should be cooked into the process. For example, roundabouts can be used effectively to move traffic, but they don’t fit everywhere.
A tough question. I don’t know what I don’t know, but I would listen to experts like Pam Hall and neighborhood associations. It is just as important to listen to Pam Hall as it is the HOA president at Summerbrook and others. The most important thing a county commissioner can do regarding making decisions is to listen. Learn by listening and not talking. Engage years or months before controversial issues are up for a vote and not weeks. If elected, I will regularly attend HOA and neighborhood association meetings. I will set up an office in Bradfordville and not make people come to me in the county courthouse.
In my role as a commissioner, I will not depend on my aide to deal with every single problem that constituents have but will personally take care of them. Being a public servant is a public service. I would listen to all parties including staff but not rely on them alone. I have not been in any County Commission meetings in the county courthouse but have been on some Zoom meetings lately. The real business of the County does not only occur in the courthouse. It’s a fair question, but we should also ask how many current commissioners have been to Bradfordville lately; how many have driven on the Bannerman Road corridor lately?
I come from the perspective not of someone who goes to a million county commission meetings but from someone who lives in the community he wants to serve. I know what the problems are. For instance, the northeast lacks a park. Even though the park has been promised for 14 years, there is still no sports or athletic park in that area of town and that is an indictment of the current commission.
I have not served on any city or county citizen boards.
The Comprehensive Plan rewrite is completely stalled. I would bring everyone to the table and figure out why it is not moving forward and then move it forward.