County Commission District 5: Dustin Rivest

1) Interests and Reasons for Running

A) Tell us a little about yourself, where you live, and your involvement in your neighborhood (issues impacting your neighborhood).

I was born and raised in Tallahassee. I’ve lived in District 5 my entire life and currently live out in Buck Lake. It’s a great small neighborhood with good neighbors. It’s a perfect area for our family because most people want quiet enjoyment in their neighborhoods. I think everyone, no matter where they live deserves quiet, peaceful enjoyment.

B) What event(s) led you to run for elected office?

I was tired of watching our community elect people who are not professional problem solvers.  I’m in n the business community and I have four businesses with almost 20 employees, I solve problems every single day. 

In our Commission we seem to run three or four ideas or solutions up the flag pole all at the same time, then get behind the one that seems to be picking up steam. We can’t always form a taskforce to study a problem, wait weeks or months and then come up with a solution. We need to come up with solutions right now. We can’t always take six months to come up with “a vision and a plan” and take another six months to implement. We need to push faster to solve some of the issues in our community.

I’m not doing this to be a politician, but to give back to the community. I’ve always wanted to serve my community in some capacity. I feel this is the best way I can serve the citizens of Leon County. We need to make corrective actions to some problems in Tallahassee/Leon County or our community will not be the community we now all know.

I also hope that I can encourage other young people to get involved in serving in public office. 

2) Comprehensive Plan Update Process

A) Are you familiar with the comprehensive planning process and its role in guiding growth and development, and protecting neighborhoods? 

Yes, I am familiar with it; the most common theme I hear in the community is that we are a very difficult community in which to build.  The Comp Plan is larger than most other municipalities of our size.

I don’t like the way we are governing the amendment process.  One example is the recent amendment to the comp plan on EV charging infrastructure, the way the mandate for prewiring infrastructure was recently handled.  It is now a mandate for any new commercial or residential properties (duplexes or more, I believe). The problems I have are first it’s just prewiring, so this cost is passed on to the consumer, when the majority of EV owners can afford their own installation of EV charging stations at their dwellings. Second, it may have been an attempt to position us for the next competitive round of federal grant funding. I get it, but I don’t think we should be governing this way.  I think this requirement should have been an incentive, rather than a mandate. I don’t think there should be a mandate through an ordinance to developers, private businesses or builders. This does nothing for our future sustainability, for our infrastructure, nor does it positively affect our community.  I think there are many good things in the Comp Plan, but I think these types of mandates are not one of them.

B) What role should citizens have in deciding on growth and development policies for our community?  

Since attending City and County meetings, I have seen and heard Commissioners say they receive input from everyone—or hundreds of citizens.  But we do not hear from everyone. We hear from the few and the loud and the ones who come to meetings for their three minutes to talk.  We live in a community with many city, county and state employees who are afraid to voice their opinions on things.  There is no way our leaders, right now, have the heartbeat of our citizens. 

What I propose, being in the software development industry and building apps, is to build a software that allows citizens to register using a third-party verification system.  A person could go online and verify they live in Leon County. The system would generate a token with basic demographic information.  Once the system is in place, I as a County Commissioner, could post a question, whether it be a Blueprint issue, Comp Plan amendment etc. and get real feedback in a way that allows me to see what the community wants/feels. It would give citizens a chance to give their voice. I could then share real data with other Commissioners about how people in my District feel about a certain issue. 

Let’s have conversations around issues that are around real data.  Empathetic, data driven decision making is what we need.  The problem is we don’t have the correct data. 

I want to create this system regardless of whether I get elected or not.  I think that as a community, if we don’t get behind data-driven, empathetic information, we are not getting anywhere. 

3) Process Used to Decide on the Use of Public Properties

What role should citizens and neighborhoods have in deciding on the use of public properties and how do you think and how do you think that should work, for example in the development of the Northwood Mall site?

We don’t have input from the community neighborhoods that live around there (Northwood Mall, Lake Ella and the Lake Bradford Road projects). Why are we not getting that?

There are citizens who are just not giving their feedback on some of these issues and we need to make it easier for citizens to have a voice and be heard.  Once we have this extremely valuable input from citizens, the data we have will change how decisions are made across the board.

Collecting and using good data will not only make for better decision making, but will allow Commissioners to run on data, allowing citizens to see how Commissioners have voted in the past on issues and whether or not the Commissioner voted with their constituents. This would help citizens hold Commissioners accountable to their campaign promises and to their votes on the Commission. Can you imagine a Leon County dashboard by District, that tells people in real time what the current issues are and what the data is telling them?

4) Growth and Development Decisions

A) ATN believes that growth and development decisions are key to making urban neighborhoods walkable, bikeable, and livable. Do you agree? If so, what specifically would you propose to implement these concepts?  

I think it is in the best interest of any developer to create communities that are walkable, bikeable and livable. That’s a major part of what any community is. It adds extreme value to any new development.  I don’t necessarily know where the role of government is in regards to mandating developers to do that.  There needs to be some sort of guidance on what the local government expects.

For older neighborhoods, we have to consider whether the disruption to the existing infrastructure to create bikeable, walkable neighborhoods is doable. In some cases, to create new pathways in an established neighborhood can cause extenuating uncomfortableness—changing traffic patterns, dirt, flooding, and it may become just a mess.  The decisions to make these changes in established neighborhoods needs to be made with the residents on the streets, not in City Hall or Commission Chambers. Let’s have the meeting with the residents and the Commissioners right there in the neighborhood. Let’s go to them and not make people have to come to city hall, making it easier for them to give their feedback. 

B) In your opinion, has the Commission done enough to equitably share tax dollars and guide growth and prosperity generally, and more specifically, to implement the Southern Action Plan? What else should we do to ensure growth is equitable and benefits all of our citizens?  

I’m not entirely familiar with the Southern Action Plan, but in general I don’t think we’ve equitably shared resources across the community.  I know the amount of money given in one zip code is completely different in another zip code, in some cases it’s not even close.

Some communities have been given millions and millions of dollars trying to fix problems in our community.  I don’t think money fixes anything.  I think people and heart fix things.  You can look at the amount of money that has been spent in specific areas of our community and not see the return, or continuing to see the same issues come back and back. 

One could argue that there is a lot more development in the Northeast and infrastructure that has been around longer and needs less money to maintain than something out on Apalachee Parkway or on the Southside. One thing I am confident in is that there has been a lot of wasteful spending.  As a businessman, I would be looking at why the County spends so much money on things.  There’s a lot of “back scratching.” There is a lot of money given to overlapping services and if we can look at those and readjust those, then we could be serving everyone more equitably. 

I think that as Commissioners we always need to be looking into the future and what it could look like. Ask: What is our community more than likely going to look like?  We need to be proactive rather than reactive. 

We have so many places we can grow that are not necessarily in urban infill areas. One of the things I commonly hear is that people don’t want more infill in their neighborhood.  I understand the purpose of urban infill, but we also have to tell ourselves that there is so much potential to develop outside of our urban services core if we have the right infrastructure in place.  I feel that the conversation around only urban infill is disrupting potential smart, sustainable growth that is walkable and bikeable on the outskirts of town. 

I’ve always had a heart for real estate and building small communities. I would love to see Tallahassee become a place that has small and unique neighborhoods/communities.  Communities like in Southwood, which offers a variety of homes, including the Cottages that are small dwellings.

I would like to see us create something like ‘oversize’ tiny homes that are smart, sustainable, livable and community focused. We have a problem talking about affordable housing and the terms that are being used revolve heavily around rental rather than opportunities to build equity through home ownership.  I think if we build 900 – 1,000 sq ft single story homes, for example, with two bedrooms, one and a half bath with a nice outdoor area, we could make some housing that is really affordable.  I’m talking about creating communities that people want to move to.

5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles

What do you see as the appropriate role between staff and the commission in decision making? 

I think there should be more accountability at the County Administrator’s level and I think there are conversations that are not happening in the sunshine when they should.  We should bring conversations between the City and County Administrators into the light. These two positions are the most powerful in our local government. I know we have to depend upon staff recommendations, but I will not be voting on a recommendation I receive 24 hours before I am asked to vote on it. With the technology I was speaking of previously, we would be able to get constituents input on the recommendations proposed by staff and provide this data to Commissioners before a vote on the agenda item. 

6) Issues of Interest to Candidate

Are there one or two issues you would like to work on and/or take leadership on as a Commissioner? 

Addressing poverty – jobs, education, housing all of which greatly reduces crime and violence.

Citizen engagement – will change the way we look at what our constituents want our community to look like. Right now, citizens are not engaged at the level that gives me any confidence that our commissioners are doing the real work of the people. 

7) Votes on Key Issues

A) If you had been a commissioner during the vote to expand the Urban Service Area to include the Welaunee Arch (2800 rural acres) north of I-10, how would you have voted? Explain your answer. 

I would have voted no; I don’t like how City services will be stretched into the County only in one direction.  There needs to be an overall relook of the Comp Plan and in defining Urban Services Areas.

B) How about the vote to give $27 million of Blueprint money to FSU for stadium upgrades? Explain your answer. 

I would have voted to punt the ball and back up.  I don’t see the urgency, so I would have voted no in order to get more time on the issue. I have a bigger problem with how this happened than what happened. I think this has turned into a slush fund. In my company we apply for funding through RFP processes, going up against competition in a process that is completely transparent. I don’t know why this funding wasn’t done that way. When we are funding public policy and/or tax increases, we need to make sure there’s more accountability for the use of the funds, as well as returns on our investments.

I don’t know why we rushed this vote.  I would like to have seen an open RFP for $27 million and let people and organizations be a part of it.  FSU may have gotten the funding using this process, but it would have been open and transparent. 

I would have said no for now.   We also didn’t have Commissioners negotiating options where a better solution could have been found. 

8) Additional Comments We appreciate you sharing your time and thoughts with us.  Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to tell us yet that you would like our neighborhoods to know?  

I think I am the only candidate who has the abilities for problem solving with innovative approaches with a dedication toward solving those problems in a transparent light. 

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