County Commission At-Large Group 2: Rudolph Ferguson, Sr.
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 originally from Miami and moved to Tallahassee in seventh grade. I attended Griffin Middle School and Godby High School. I have been married 30 years and we live in the Griffin Heights neighborhood where my grandmother and great-grandmother also resided. My wife and I have four grown children and five grandchildren. My public service began at the age of 18-19 with the Tallahassee Urban League where I was eventually hired as a peer counselor. I have also been 30 years at my church where I started as an usher before becoming pastor. I am excited about some things my community is doing. Gun violence has been plaguing our community, so we started “Praise Up, Guns Down” messaging, meetings at church, and dialogue with broader community members. During Chief DeLeo’s time there were some incidents with the police, so we expanded the gun violence dialogue into a council. Some of us were able to travel to Chicago to learn their methods and bring their methods here. Education is so important, and other community-based programs that speak volumes such as financial literacy.
B) What event(s) led you to run for elected office?
I am running for communities. I have been the face against gun violence for two decades. My voice is now stronger, but I need a seat at the table. If not at the table, it won’t be on the menu. I really want to be at the table. I realize it is a bold effort and major task to be a county commissioner, but I want to take on gun violence and immediately support programs, for example, programs that incentivize businesses to help tackle gun violence. I will be very excited then to see what happens next.
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. It is a big plan but I do understand it and that it should change every 7-10 years and the county’s role. I am not so familiar with the 1990 plan but I would say the role hasn’t changed. The current comprehensive plan is to accommodate growth and development and protect neighborhoods and is not just about the home aspect but also jobs and living wages. Where I stand on the current plan update process is to not increase new homes too much but focus on much needed public services, like new schools, fire, and police station. The goal is not to take away too much and not raise taxes. We should increase public services where they are needed most.
B) What role should citizens have in deciding on growth and development policies for our community?
First and foremost, all citizens play a major role at some point in decisions affecting citizens. We should hear from citizens first before tearing down and building. But there also must be some type of compromise. The goal is to make sure and listen to all citizens. Those in public service are elected by the people to serve the people. My method is to listen, learn, and then lead. It is essential to listen first to citizens to make the right decisions.
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 go back – the role is the same. Neighborhoods, taxpayers, voters should be there. I was Chairman of the Police Citizens Advisory Council when the new police department on the south side was a concept. But citizens did not want it there, similar at Northwood Mall. When we discovered concerns were voiced, we sat down with all who had a major role and had a charette at the senior citizens building. Many people showed up and went around booth to booth offering suggestions and everything was written down. Again, the process should be citizens and neighborhoods first and foremost. I lead for you. It’s your tax dollars so your voice is first and foremost.
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?
Yes, this is very important. Before we tear down and build new, we must understand that most mortgages are 30 years so we are part of these communities for a very long time. Even if just 10-15 years voices should be heard. We need to make sure all communities have conveniences. Residents of Fort Braden have to come all the way in town for a shopping mall, emergency services must be available, and no one should have to drive 20 miles to a grocery store. We should ensure the entire county has all essential services – and focus on most vulnerable communities first. Help those who want and try and aspire to do well. When the whole county comes up, no one will feel superior to others. It helps when ideas and concepts are brought to the table.
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 am glad to be asked this question because what has really stuck with me has been the decision to not listen to citizens. The FSU vote was misguided. While we love sports, is it incumbent on us to be careful with tax dollars. First, we should deal with the economics of our communities. Some are disenfranchised and really need help. We need to pay attention to the most needy. When we address poverty and crime there are many benefits. Money is scarce but we have an educated citizenry and financial resources that can help support unmet needs. I think so far “just enough” has been done like the student who settles for a B or C to pass a class.
5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles
What do you see as the appropriate role between staff and the commission in decision making?
I understand that staff must be educated in issues, but commissioners should be closely or heavily involved in new concepts or ideas, and not just pass all the work on to staff. Also, commissioners should not push everything down on the agenda and do more than just talk policy and vote. Commissioners should use the same energy as running for office and keep citizens updated. Pick up the telephone, keep them posted, this is most important.
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! First is public safety as this is a major concern. We have guns in broad daylight and nighttime. We have seen a major uptick in guns coming into our county. I have been a voice against gun violence for a very long time. Businesses cannot grow, people and developers do not want to come here when we are the wild, wild west. Second is homelessness, somewhat of a segue to crime, and poverty. So many just want to stay alive. There has also been a major uptick in homelessness since we have the only shelters in the 8-9 county region. People come here from other counties because we have shelter. But solutions are not far from us. We need a regional solution, and a national grant may help. The other issue is affordable housing, which is becoming a major crisis. Rents are going up. Everyone needs living wages. Public servants need to be making more money, including police that are willing to have a passion for 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 say yes on behalf of the rural areas because services are needed everywhere. Masses of people will be moving here so we need to find the necessary land and space for urban services. Not everyone would be happy with this, but we need to find a way to grow the tax base to provide those services and accommodate those future citizens coming. We cannot tell them not to come. I would have voted yes. My first priority is public service.
B) How about the vote to give $27 million of Blueprint money to FSU for stadium upgrades? Explain your answer.
I would not have voted for $27 but maybe $10 million. Stadium upgrades should never trump the needs of the people. I understand strong revenue is needed but not for upgrades, renovations would be more appropriate. Return on investment does not come annually but may have to wait at least 10 years. It is more important to help businesses, neighborhoods, everyone coming out of the pandemic to get the economy flowing and help to continue to grow entrepreneurs. Not $27, but I would have made a motion for $10 million because FSU could raise the remaining dollars needed. Focus on citizen concerns first, then possibly revisit. Ensure equilibrium. Never sports first but citizens first.
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 am a runner and always working for communities. These are things I have always done – work for community, public service, I am a voice to lead us to a more comfortable place. Very momentous at the age of 23 I was called by the late great Governor Chiles to meet him at the Governor’s Mansion where he asked me to lead a new MLK Institute for Non-Violence. There were 360 applicants, but he wanted me to be his appointee. I then served with a sense of purpose for seven years, meeting with the governor every quarter. I want to continue serving, and serve the people with unmet needs, serve the well to do, and those who want to do well. I will tackle crime, public safety, bring new businesses to town, but first listen to citizens and take their concerns to heart.