County Commission District 5: Jay Revell

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 live in Woodland Drive. I’ve lived on the same street for about 8 years, and it’s the second home I’ve had on that street.  We love the historic character and charm of the neighborhood. I’m a golfer and have been a president at Capital City Country Club in the past. Most of my involvement in the neighborhood has been in keeping the golf course open and operating. 

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

I was at FSU and I worked for the County and got an incredible crash course in all things local government. I feel I became addicted to making a difference. I participated in the Knight Creative Communities program, and worked on what became the midtown action plan.  We brought together business owners and neighborhood leaders from Levy Park, Lafayette Park, Los Robles and ended up writing a 20 year plan for midtown that resulted in almost $25 million in funding from Blueprint for midtown placemaking.  That experience led me to apply to be the director of the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority; I ran that organization for three years. We specialized in community building.  When Commissioner Dozier decided not to run for re-election, I put in a lot of thought into it before deciding to run.  

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? 

I am very familiar with Comp Plan. I was on a panel that met for two years on rewrites of the land use element and mobility plan before COVID hit.  The take away that many of us had is the code doesn’t represent the character of our neighborhoods in a great way. I think other cities have done a much better job in using their planning to codify their values.  Then, when a new project or development is proposed, it is very easy for a developer to understand what the character of that community is, what type of specific architectural design elements should be incorporated, the vernaculars of the neighborhood and that region. We don’t have anything like that here and I think that’s a huge miss for us.  Whether you talk to a neighborhood advocate or a developer, they both will agree that our Comp Plan is in shambles. It needs a lot of work and more than anything else, it needs a clearer vision for who we want to be as a community.  

Some of the things people think of in Tallahassee are our beautiful natural resources and trails and our live oak trees.  All these things are at a critical juncture right now.  We are growing and the amount of growing pains we have experienced recently are only going to get worse as we go from 300,000 people to ½ million, eventually.  If we don’t codify what our values are in a very strong way, we are going to have a very hard time preserving the things that we love. And the Comp Plan is the best vessel for doing that.  The Plan lacks clarity when it comes to preserving who we are and defining the future that we want to build.  

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

There are lot of things our planning staff does right, but there are things that we do ‘backwards.’

Staff, although well intentioned, will try to craft a solution, and then go sell that solution to the public. My experience has always been that if we engage the community on the front end and have processes and systems that allow them to shape the vision first, we are going to get a better product for whatever it is we’re trying to do.  

A lot of frustration builds up from neighborhood residents when every time another issue presents itself, we go through the same tiresome cycle that doesn’t seem to generate results that anybody likes.  I don’t understand why we are not going back to the drawing board and saying we need to invert this.  We need to go very heavy on citizen engagement on the front end. We need the most intense engagement process we’ve ever had in our community. 

We need to be contracting with the best consulting firms in the nation to help guide processes that engage our public in a meaningful way, so that we have a product we are all proud of.  A resident wants to feel like they are a part of shaping their community’s future.  The Land Use Element of the Comp Plan could be a great example.  

In 2024, both the City and the County will turn 200 years old.  To me, this is the opportunity of the Century to have a very long, direct and fully engaged conversation about what we want the future of our community to look like.  I think we need some new, probably outside perspectives on citizen engagement with great representation from businesses and residents to ensure that what we codify are the things we care about most. 

Our code allows for the preservation of things like parks in neighborhoods, but it doesn’t insist on them.  If our code sets out a clear, consistent vision of our community, developers will build to that.  

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?

Our local governments need to make a strong effort to go to where people are. I think many times we have citizen engagement opportunities that not posted and advertised where the people are. We can do better.  

I am 100% in agreement with the vision to buy the Northwood Mall property to be used for public purpose.  But unfortunately, it seems like that’s where the real vision process stopped.  I know we have had some attempts at public outreach, but this property has such potential to be a transformational project. We get few chances to design a project with such impact.  What we build will be there for the next 60-70 years.  Intentionality in design is immensely important. The process undertaken in order to develop such a transformative project should take as long as it needs to get it right. I am a fan of growth and moving our community forward, but I am constantly disappointed when I see things that come up in our community that are not representative of how I and a lot of others envision our future.  

I think we need to have elected officials who are not afraid to talk about the importance of vision and community engagement in a way that can shape results that have a profound effect on how much we love our community going forward. The implementation of that falls on staff. We have very talented staff that need clear direction and a Commission that will insist upon the kind of engagement that is needed to accomplish things at a very high level.  

Whenever people feel like they are boxed out of the process, it lessens their desire to strengthen their participation in the issue.  I think a big part of the Commissioner’s job is to make sure people who come to engage, feel like they have been listened to and heard.  

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?  

Leon County has over 700 miles of trails.  We are quickly becoming one of the great trail cities in the US. In many neighborhoods, people have the ability to go straight from their neighborhood onto a trail. We have a lot on the commercial side like the multi-modal district requirements. I think we should have requirements for large, raw land developments that are coming online. The developer should be required to develop additional greenway trails that connect to existing trails in the vicinity.  We should insist on this as a part of the development plan. Again, codifying our community’s character and culture. Things like our trails are a part of our culture. 

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?

Historically, no, we have not done a good job, but I think we are getting better but we still have a long way to go.  I like the idea of a seamless community.  I think we should be able to go from one part of the county to another and never feel like you’re in a part that has been neglected.  

I think it goes back to being intentional in the Commission’s decision making. There’s a demand on our resources across the entire community, but if you have places that are deficient, then we have to reset our thinking and prioritization. An example that comes to mind is some of the deficiencies we have in fire services across the County.  We are two to three fire stations behind and that hits people in their pocket books because homeowner’s insurance is based upon the home’s location to fire services (fire rating). 

We have to reprioritize our spending to make sure certain areas are not being left behind as new developments are built out with their own infrastructure—roads, etc. When you are in a different part of the community that is not growing at the same rate, the sense of being left behind by public investment is just exacerbated. With new development, not only does one area get new roads and sidewalks, connections, etc., but the money that it costs the local government to maintain those things also travels to that area. More and more of those resources get pulled out farther and farther away from places that perhaps need it. 

When you think about the southern parts of our County, it is time for us to invest there in ways that can provide solutions to some of the issues we are facing there.  

5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles

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

It is the Commissioners’ job to be the conduit between the community and staff and to have a general vision of what community members in Leon County want to experience. Then, Commissioners should take that information and help craft policies, procedures by giving direction to staff to bring those things to life. I think our very capable staff need some added direction on a few fronts to get things right.  I know how to speak to staff in their language so that I translate things our community wants in a way that staff understands. In the past, I have had conversations with some staff and have emphasized that if staff would invest in community engagement on the front end that their stress and consternation when issues get to the Commission level would plummet.  It’s all about process.  I think it is staffs’ job to find out why residents feel a certain way about an issue. I don’t think staff is taking the time to do this.  If we have people engaged on the front end, they are not going to be at the Commission meetings to revolt at the back end. The reason we have these terse interactions continuing to occur is because the process we are using simply doesn’t work.

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? 

Our housing affordability crisis. Our community is quickly becoming, if it has not already become, a place that is viewed as unaffordable. This has not always been the case. We need a multi-faceted set of solutions.  It touches a lot of other challenges in our community. 

Creating a more equitable economic situation in our community. If you are someone who wants to build a life in our community, you should not feel as though there are multiple barriers in front of you to do so.  You should feel you have the ability to start a business, find a job that pays a livable wage, or find a home you can afford in a safe neighborhood. There is a wide gap in our community between those who think there are barriers and those who think no barriers exist.  We need to try to close that gap. We talk a lot about reducing poverty or violent crime which are intrinsically linked. 

I am on the board of Goodwill Industries of the Big Bend and this has helped me recognize that violent crime is usually an act of desperation. We need to do everything in our power to change that trajectory. We have people in our community facing this on a daily basis who need hope, jobs, training, and a strong support system.  

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 probably would have voted ‘no,’ but with conditions. I think I could have gotten to a ‘yes’ if certain conditions had been met.   

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

I would have voted a ‘hard no.’  I would have voted no on all the expenditures that went to our collegiate facilities. 

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?  

We have to do two things and do them now: we have to work to change the trajectory of some of the challenges that we are facing. They are very pressing. Second, we have to develop a vision for our community. We have “lost the plot” here. There is no clear understanding of where we are headed.  We need clear thinking leaders who can help spearhead a specific direction.  

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