County Commission At-Large Group 2: Josh Johnson
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 am a second-generation Leon County resident. I have lived and worked here, attended college, done my under-and upper-graduate studies here. This is my home. I not only see my home, but I live and work it every day as a small business owner, head of 621 Gallery, adjunct professor, and high school teacher. I see and experience all parts of town on a daily basis. In some things I am troubled, some I get imaginative about, and some things I see I am glad of. I currently live in the Ingleside neighborhood behind the old Tallahassee Democrat. Neighbors are really nice and like-minded. At first, I was a newcomer but I’ve gained public recognition through 621 Gallery, so when the City Walk issue came up neighbors approached me for opinion. This was an incredible shot in the arm. I felt the need to curb sensationalism and that there is a need for more charity and goodwill, especially considering that we were in the middle of a pandemic. No situation can be perfect. As Dr. King said, people do not want to take sides because we fear it. We should not be afraid.
B) What event(s) led you to run for elected office?
Six years ago, I ran for the House of Representatives. At that time, I ran as the home rule candidate on neighborhood issues and pride in living spaces but became known for criminal justice and restoration of civil rights. In years ensuing I have really enjoyed and been charmed by engaging and building relationships. I teach at a Title I school where kids love me and I love teaching. At the Gallery I work and have contracts with COCA and others who have been asking when I will run again. A few issues have made me put glasses down my nose, for example, Welaunee. This was desperately disappointing. The planning, the roll out, and obfuscation of public comment. So much money spent, like the $27 million Blueprint funds for FSU. These issues angered me because they are rooted in the same arrogance and lack of community input. Voices have been stifled and there is too much money spent on investment with limited returns.
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 the comprehensive plan and its role in guiding growth and development and in protecting neighborhoods. One issue I have is comp plan interpretation. I think it has been inequitable. I am not familiar with all update processes.
B) What role should citizens have in deciding on growth and development policies for our community?
This is another question that brings out the poet in me because I feel that the only role belongs to citizens. Elected representatives have the autonomy to vote for the community they represent. Citizen review councils and committees are important but there is a lack of support. It is incumbent on officials to listen to citizens. In years past Tallahassee was beginning to have a developer class, now it has a developer class, which is too powerful. The power is evident and getting out of hand. The role belongs to citizens directly and indirectly. As a government teacher I know there are a variety of civic participation methods. We can turn the stove on, but what gives heat is going to commission meetings and birddogging, and what provides teeth is through citizen councils and committees.
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?
How it works is different from how it should work. It occurs, but seems only cosmetic, a box to check. There are several ways to have more healthy citizen input. The neighborhoods and neighborhood associations (NAs) should have a very large say. The amphitheater is similar to Northwood Mall – issues of air and noise quality. Need to consider people living in real time subject to deleterious effects. Even if there is very little development there is a need for citizen input. For example, the police station – not as much development but bigger social impacts. Better if citizens are heard. Gentrification can create problems. Citizens and NAs should have a huge say in air quality, traffic, and noise pollution concerns.
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?
First, I will address walkable and bikeable. Not only by common sense but also statistically walking and biking are important to human physical health and to our economic health. When urban areas are more walkable businesses do better and transportation is not as much as an issue. With Amazon moving in there are two sides to the argument. We could make it a good thing but there is no public transit because it is outside the city boundary. It is completely obvious that walking and biking help us thrive. But it cannot always be quantified. A supporter has talked about bike lanes but some are ill- or under- planned and they are not always done well, for example, lanes run out or there are inappropriate shoulders and lane widths. If we plan better, we will see areas benefit from it.
Secondly, livability. Growth and development means how will we build structures? It is a systemic issue that touches resources and investment. You take away from livability if development is too heavy on “big box” stores for economic vitalization. Money could be better used to equitably grow and develop. Lots of urban communities over time are followed by a cloud trail of gentrification that pushes communities out. We can look at sprawl versus infill. This is key to concrete solutions to systemic issues.
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?
NO! We can look at specific examples like the Blueprint sales tax, which is a regressive tax, by the way. I do not believe that the majority of citizens are aware that it is a slush fund that is not equitably disbursed. I’ve been here 34 years and I hear from my grandfathers that the south side looks the same compared to other areas. We can step outside and drive around. From Providence to Bond, they have the airport over their left shoulder, railroad lines through their spine, and a wastewater treatment facility. What else should we do? Growth needs to be equitable and beneficial to all. Make actions affirmative not just fund a project. We should not do three projects on one side of town before starting to balance the other side.
5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles
What do you see as the appropriate role between staff and the commission in decision making?
As a general statement, staff should not be completely beholden or abused. Telling staff to put gravel in my driveway is an abuse of power. Staff make recommendations and commissioners are autonomous to take recommendations of staff and the will of the people to make the right decision. County commission and county administrator – these two roles should be completely separate. The key is to facilitate, and not to overwhelm or bully these processes or relationships.
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?
Yes, the one that pops into my mind as a teacher of economics for local governments – we can all agree how we keep local small businesses healthy and that is by undergirding businesses. It has been difficult crawling out of the pandemic but we have to make investments where people work. We should put ways we are spending money on small businesses under a magnifying glass. Make public investments to re-engage and re-build workforce for our economic health. Use our existing public resources in specific ways that affects affordable housing, small business, or our environment and natural resources. Investment benefits rise on the shoulder of government.
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 urban service area is in a robust county. Especially in the Welaunee situation, the number of homes, the lack of research, the amount of money $77-87 million with an average median home price over $300,000 – I would not have voted for it. Equitable communities are essential to me. This issue was a compounding of blasphemies.
B) How about the vote to give $27 million of Blueprint money to FSU for stadium upgrades? Explain your answer.
Absolutely not. It is a bad investment. The number of permanent jobs at 34-40 for $27 million, and the types of jobs and wages have never really been talked about. During the pandemic we could have invested in so many other things. The community was some 70 percent against it. On its face – this was horrible and dysfunctional, a dereliction of duties.
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?
Yes. Not only am I from this place, but the life I have has allowed me the opportunity to work with many walks of life and neighborhoods. I have a knowledge base and respect. I know what needs to be better, and things we are doing very well. I can represent all citizens of Leon County with my unique skill set. I run a small business, I am a teacher, and I bring gallery art to communities. I understand gentrification and the people dis-appropriately affected. I believe in this place and I believe we can do so much better.