County Commission District 5: Joey Lamar

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 got my BA and MA in accounting from Clark Atlanta University, and a MA in journalism from Indiana University.  I live in an apartment on Sharer Road, and consider Tallahassee my home.

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

My motivation, among other reasons for wanting to run for public office, was that one day I was driving on Pullen Road and saw kids walking on the street because there were no sidewalks. They were jumping in and out of the road and it was very dangerous. That was one of the things that motivated me to run. I feel that Tallahassee does not prioritize safety and infrastructure in poorer neighborhoods. I also feel that public input often isn’t taken into account until the project plans are already fully formed. I want to bring residents in earlier. I was involved in one incident where residents really wanted a traffic light because of safety concerns and the County refused their request.

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’ve read the entire Comp Plan, all 300+ pages of it. I was frustrated with it because it’s too vague and lenient. The Comp Plan should have standards that are more specific and less subjective and subject to interpretation. I’d like more quantifiability. One thing which particularly concerns me is that the Comp Plan has no affordable housing requirements. Currently, there are only density bonuses that allow developers to get more density and in exchange they must provide affordable housing. However, they are not required to build affordable housing. I would like to see that changed so that all new development would be required to have 10% set-asides for affordable housing.

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

I support early public involvement.

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 that should work, for example at the Northwood Mall site?  

I think the City did a reasonably good job of soliciting public opinion on the Northwood Center. I attended one public meeting. Although I support public opinion being solicited, especially early on, it’s impossible to make everyone happy because people have different views about what they want to see. Master Planning is important for large parcels being redeveloped. I don’t want to see high-rise apartment complexes at the Northwood or the old TPD site. I’d like to see affordable housing and affordable day-care, as there is a large homelessness problem in these areas. The key to solving homelessness is providing housing for the homeless.

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?

The Comp Plan talks about making neighborhoods walkable and bikeable, but I don’t see enough implementation. I understand that bike paths are not feasible everywhere, such as on Old Bainbridge Road, which is a narrow road and a protected canopy road. But there are many other opportunities for bike paths, such as in the Hartsfield area, where there’s room to accommodate bike paths but nothing is being constructed.

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?  

The Southside has traditionally been under-served. It’s finally starting to get its fair share, but the new development is starting to price poorer people out of their neighborhoods. This is making it harder for some African-Americans to buy into a neighborhood. Capitalism takes advantage of the vulnerable. Government must step in and help. I want to work on crime, better education, better day-care options, better after-school options, and stable housing on the Southside. These are not separate issues; they are all inter-related and we need to understand their totality.

5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles

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

Many commissioners do not ask staff questions and they don’t do their homework. Commissioners need to do their own research and come prepared to meetings, not rubber stamp what staff says. Commissioners currently vote with staff recommendation 90% of the time. They rely too heavily on staff recommendations. It’s the Commissioners’ job to do their own research and to think independently and to be prepared to ask the staff tough questions, and “not just go with the flow.”

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?

I would like to take the lead on homelessness and crime reduction. Homelessness is a huge problem throughout Tallahassee, especially on the North Monroe Corridor from Tharpe Street going past Fred George. This problem has gotten significantly worse over the past four years. We must provide housing to help get the unhoused off the streets. Housing will provide the mental stability because they are living in a place of their own. Then, we can help them find employment and they can integrate back into our communities.

The second issue is reducing crime. Young people who don’t wish to attend college need to learn skills that translate into good-paying jobs such as electrician, carpenter, and plumber. Plumbers start at $31/hour. Electrician at $25/hour. If we can move these young people into skilled labor positions, they can be a positive impact in our communities, make a good living and not graduate with a lot of student college loan debt, like I did. The gap we must bridge here is exposure. The programs we have in place are great, but if no one knows about the opportunity, they cannot take advantage of the service. We need to bring back career days in high school. Also, let’s allow them to shadow a worker for a day. They have to know they have viable non-college options. Increased employment, including wages, leads to a reduction in crime.

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. 

The vote for Welaunee expansion was a big deal. I would have voted against expanding the USA, but I don’t think it would have ultimately stopped the growth.

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

I would have voted against funding FSU. I went to the Commission meeting and spoke against it. Blueprint money was supposed to be for economic development. Voters voted to extend Blueprint funding for economic development, and although we are only 2 years into it, the FSU expenditure has pretty much bankrupted the fund. The funds will only provide between 34-36 jobs–at that price, it’s $800K per job. The job salaries are not going to ever generate a return that justifies the expenditure. During this same time period, Ford Motor Company was looking to create a factory to build EVs. These jobs pay really good salaries. We could have used Blueprint money to make an offer to lure them to Tallahassee. But now we don’t have the funds to incentivize any more job creation in Tallahassee. Many people I talk to are disillusioned about Blueprint and they say they won’t vote for it anymore. Meanwhile, the FSU Boosters raised $100 million and only needed $20 million more at the time they came to the City for help. What was the rush to give them the money? A month after the vote, it was revealed that the State of Florida had a surplus and FSU could have applied for some of that surplus money. FSU is a “self-sufficient school” which means that it doesn’t charge student activity fees because FSU sports make a profit. I have a background in sports journalism and accounting and I understand how the financing works. FSU receives $24 million every year from the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) from revenues from TV deals, etc. That money goes directly to the Athletic Department and the Athletic Department can do what it wants with it. Some of that money could have been used to complete the stadium upgrades. The Commissioners should not have rushed the vote through but should have demanded that FSU explore all of its other options. The Commissioners’ decision eroded public trust.

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 developers have way too much influence in Tallahassee. The Commission seems to prioritize helping out developers over fixing social inequities. I’m not anti-growth, but I am about managing growth responsibly and giving the people who have to live with its long-term impacts, a larger voice and an earlier say in the process, bringing them in on the front-end, not after the plans are essentially finalized.

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