City Commission Seat 3: Jeremy Matlow

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 raised in Tallahassee from age 3, by a single mother of 4 kids, on the southside of Tallahassee. I grew up here and went to Leon High School, started a family and a business. I live in Wells Wood Suburban Hills neighborhood. It’s not a well-organized neighborhood but does have annual events and a Facebook page.

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

Starting a business, Gaines Street Pies in the All Saints area, and becoming involved with the All Saints Business Association I had to deal with the City on all sorts of matters, speaking before the commission. It seemed like only big business concerns were being heard.

I’m rerunning to change the way things are being done in Tallahassee, the way we interact with our neighborhoods and constituents. More reform is needed; we are nudging in the right direction, but the job isn’t done yet.

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’m very familiar with the Comp Plan.

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

Over the last few years in making changes to many of the Comp Plan elements, the desire was to look at the Plan in its entirety. With the current growth there is a need to bring everybody to the table, all of our neighborhoods. Many of the current 11th hour fights are due to the direction our Comp Plan has been given. This has caused a lot of conflicts. There needs to be a step backwards to stop the unchecked urban sprawl. It seems almost everything is allowed under the Comp Plan to some.

There must be a better understanding among staff, elected officials, and our neighborhoods to be on the same page, a shared vision. I have not seen the Commission provide any guidance on the Comp Plan or how to manage the growth.

We need to bring everybody to the table, talk about what we need to conserve, the environmental protections and the neighborhood protections we want to see. There needs to be some difficult conversations of where development should take place and how. There will be wildly different opinions but we need to have this conversation.

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?

The biggest problem we face now is that the City counts public participation as events hosted, charettes, and input is taken but there is no guarantee that any community or neighborhood input this goes any further in the final product.  We need to move forward and take the tally of what is hard from the community and put them as actual options that the commission needs to consider.

There is no clear process on how or why some ideas go forward and some do not. Great ideas are heard but never seem to go forward as options. Local governments need to take a step back and put elected officials back in the driver’s seat. Elected officials are making the final decision but there aren’t stops along the way where they eliminate or move things forward.

A little bit better process was used for the police station search in evaluating different options and viewpoints from the community which actually resulted in changes before the Northwood Mall was decided upon.

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 agree these are great goals. Every neighborhood is different, but when looking at the urban core, there needs to be more investment in pedestrian, cycling infrastructure. The road I live on doesn’t have sidewalks so he doesn’t feel safe taking his kids walking or biking. There needs to be renewed effort in connectivity to parks, shopping but his and other neighborhoods are fighting for basic infrastructure like street lighting and sidewalks.

One of the better ideas that’s taking place now in southside neighborhoods is enabling them to come up with spending plans, investment plans. The actual community members are making decisions on how the funds are spent but the current budgets aren’t’ large enough to accomplish the transformation changes needed. But this is as close to participative budgeting government as we have seen.  This concept should be expanded to other neighborhoods, too This can help in getting ahead of major changes like parking garages and other large projects that were not suggested by the neighborhood but came down from on high.

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?  

It starts with public investment when discussion equity.  It’s said that the southside doesn’t look like the northside of town. What it looks like is that decades of decisions that benefit some areas over other areas.

I was such an opponent of the Welaunee Comp Plan and Northeast Gateway expansions which is dumping hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment, clearcutting large areas of forest and the local neighborhoods didn’t want this expansion, but it was fast-tracked. So now there is hundreds of millions of dollars that can’t bring equity to neighborhoods that already exist.

It’s said that new development will create the taxes to help us do new things, but it seems that tax money just ends up going to new develop and it never trickles down to the neighborhoods that need it and have paid their taxes all along.

Equity can be achieved with the government leading by example and invest in equal measures. As an example, we will give $6 million dollars to a neighborhood but $80 million dollars to a developer to build a new roadway. There is a huge imbalance in the amount of money being used to address these issues.

5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles

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

The way we are set up, the City Commission and Mayor should be giving the overall policy direction to guide the City but it seems to operate in reverse. I’ve been extremely critical of the current city manager and some staff because historically the 2016 reorganization saw a lot of good staff run out by City Manager Eric Fernandez and now staff tend to support developers in a unbalanced way. I’m not anti-developer but just against the imbalance that currently exists. Rather than being a check on development and meeting priorities it has shifted to how can we get things done and make it happen. I’m providing staff direction that they work for the people of Tallahassee and not the City Manager or anyone within the city government and they should be the voice of the people. Staff should be delivering what the people of Tallahassee are asking for.

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?

Affordable housing and what is going on in the housing space is paramount. This ties into the Comp Plan and the Urban Service Area expansion. There’s been deception in every expansion of the USA that it will expand affordable housing, but none of the new development is really affordable. Most housing in the new development will be $280,000 to a $300,000 for a single-family home. There must be a more active role on this issue to ensure that low and extremely low-income individuals can find a place to live. This issue dovetails into the homelessness issue we are experiencing. Trying to get the homeless into an affordable unit with the ‘housing first” initiative.

The second issue, hard for officials to talk about, and that is the violence, gun violence and poverty. This goes hand in hand with what we do now with results to be seen in 10 – 15 years. Are we building a city where we’re investing equitably where everyone has the same educational, and career opportunities to choose a different path? This is not something that shows immediate results but we must continue to drive it forward.

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 voted NO for many reasons. A single path for 4,000 acre Urban Service Area expansion seemed insane. Staff provided figures that there already was enough room inside existing space before bringing in Welaunee. So it didn’t pass the first test of “is it time to start expanding”? It also failed the second test of “if we need to expand, how much should we expand?”. It was the 4,000 acres all at once, yet there is no clear guiding principles for this expansion at all.

As to the matter of community engagement… this was railroaded through during an election year. The first vote showed that the majority of the City/County Commissioners were opposed to it. Diane Williams-Cox said she didn’t want to see this come back, Maryann Lindley said that this looked like sprawl. But the behind-the-scenes activities before the next vote showed that the votes needed to carry the issue somehow appeared. The people that carried that vote did not get reelected. It was rammed through in a lame duck session. This was a blatant, disrespectful thing to do to the people of Tallahassee. There are recourses during elections.

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

I voted NO four times, but this goes back to who is driving the train, the staff or the Commission? A lot of staff in executive positions now were put into place during the reorganization of 2016. The FBI investigations showed that former Commissioner Maddox felt like he hand-selected some of these people who could deliver for the power players within our community. Watching how Doak Campbell played out, he was right. It was absurd that it became an agenda item since no one on the Blueprint Board ever requested it to be on the agenda. The main question to answer is how did this even get on the agenda in the first place. The people of Tallahassee thought they voted on the types of projects, on certain initiatives. We have this staff-led shadow process that gets these things considered

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?

My name is Jeremy Matlow and I would love your support for re-election. Since I’ve been elected, I’ve been a fighter for our neighborhoods.” I’ve carried the message from neighborhood groups to Commission meetings, asked the tough questions, pushed on the tough issues. I’ve expanded the radius of public notifications even though there is more to do in that area.

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