County Commission District 1

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’m Tallahassee born and raised.  I’ve lived in Frenchtown or Southside Tallahassee all my life.  I am a member of a large extended family that lives in Tallahassee.  That family has encouraged me to be my best and to advocate for those that live in impoverished communities in Tallahassee.  I’ve helped organize and/or participate in a number of activities to strengthen community pride and involvement, such as Frenchtown Rising, Frenchtown Neighborhood First, and the community discussions on the police headquarters relocation to Southside. 

B. What events led you to run for elected office?

I had been feeling our community has been far too divided on many issues and that is due in large part to leadership failure. The two issues that really pushed me into running were the Blueprint funding of Doak Campbell stadium renovations and the way the Orange Avenue apartment project went off the rails. In both cases, funding was allocated in a way that does little for the people that need the most help for jobs, housing, and living a healthy life. The leadership failure contributes to continued impoverishment of low income neighborhoods and their resulting gentrification.

2)  Comprehensive Plan Process

 A. Are you familiar with the comprehensive planning process and its role in guiding growth and development issues?

I have a basic understanding of the comprehensive plan and its leadership role in directing growth.  It’s a complex and detailed document, but I’ve been working through it.  My main concern is that we don’t do anywhere near an adequate job of engaging neighborhoods and other organizations in the planning for and building of projects where they live. Also, while the plan is a long-term document, it does need to be able to change to reflect the current needs of various communities and neighborhoods, particularly those that have been traditionally underserved.

B. What role should citizens and neighborhoods have in deciding on the use of public properties?

Well, now you’ve brought up one of my big beefs with the status quo. Too often, it’s the politicians, staff, or influential people that drive what happens on public property. This turns the process upside down. It should be government asking the people that make up the community, “What do you need?” And to do that, they really need to get out into the community, where the people live and socialize, to ask that question. Government can also do the research to find out what we lack in comparison to thriving communities and engage and inform the community on those things so the community can make informed decisions on what would be the best facilities, services, and amenities of the public properties.

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?

Northwood Mall is a large site, somewhere around 25 acres. The TPD Headquarters will only take up about 5 acres.  That leaves a lot of public land for development.  We’ve had a number of what we call community engagement meetings, but they have not been based on what I mentioned earlier: doing a survey of what thriving communities have done, comparing that to what we have and don’t have in Tallahassee, and then informing the public on those results. Then, we can have informed citizens participate fully in the planning process, citizens from throughout the community not just the around Northwood Mall site, by going out to engage the citizens where they live and in ways that are comfortable and practical for them to participate.

4) Growth and Development Decisions

A)  ATN believes that growth and development decisions are key to making urban neighborhoods walkable, bikable, livable and desirable.  Do you agree?  If so, what specifically would you advocate to implement these concepts? 

I certainly believe that good governmental decision making is necessary for those things. I will say that my candidacy is focused on serving what has traditionally been underserved communities . . . and those tend to be impoverished communities. These things you mentioned, like walkability are important. We should track where people walk now, get out there and observe. Then, we should be talking with the community about what they see as most important to do first based on what’s been observed and having the community help interpret those observations.

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 address this and ensure growth is equitable and benefits all of our citizens?

It gets back to talking with citizens and being willing to follow up with what they are telling you as a politician or planner. Too often, it’s government telling people that the projects are in their best interests. They are not starting with the question, “What would make your life better?” There’s been quite a bit of new public spending on the Southside, but it’s not helping the basic citizens. Look at Midtown, there’s been a push to make it a place to live, work, and play; the infrastructure is in place with businesses, parks, sidewalks, and homes. There’s few places like that on Southside despite all the public spending. What does that tell you? We need that type of sustainable and prosperity-oriented infrastructure on the Southside to have more livable communities.

5)  Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles

What do you see as the appropriate role between staff and the commission in decision making? Do you think staff currently has too much influence, about enough or too little? Explain. 

Staff definitely have a role to play. The issues in a community the size of Leon County and Tallahassee are too varied and large for any one person to solve them. Staff can help to clarify issues, get the community’s feelings about issues, research how other communities have dealt with the issues, and, importantly, help the commission to craft legal, valid, and equitable policies and initiatives to address the issues. Still, staff are not the elected representatives of the people. It is easy for some commissioners to come to depend on staff, especially if they don’t want to do the work to be the voice of the community. I will certainly seek staff input, but will do my best to hear the voice of my constituents and be responsive to them.

6)  Are there one or two issues you would like to work on and/or take leadership on as a Commissioner?

As I’ve tried to bring up in earlier responses, I want to create a sustainable and effective public infrastructure for the Black-owned and operated businesses to survive and thrive while they serve the surrounding neighborhoods and communities. We don’t solve poverty by displacing poor people from their homes, bringing in more affluent people, and then adding amenities. We need to do a better job developing and supporting Black business people, their businesses, and helping them to buy the buildings in which the businesses operate. Doing so helps the neighborhoods revitalize for the existing residents as well as the businesses. The core idea is to create the conditions that enable people in low-income areas to live, work, and play within their communities . . . that’s the thriving and sustainable way forward.

Second, and related to the first, is that I would like to get past the talking and into action regarding a focused push for affordable housing that is truly affordable. As with businesses, I would like to lead the effort to increase Black home ownership significantly. In too many neighborhoods, the rents are so high that combined with other household expenses, people can’t save for a down payment and mortgage payment that is usually less than the rent and builds equity over time. But, whether for renters or homeowners we need to make housing more affordable in impoverished communities.

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 have voted against the expansion.  There are a variety of environmental and community economy reasons that the expansion does more harm than good.  Welaunee is the classic example of wealthy campaign donors getting their return on investment from their funded politicians. 

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

As I mentioned earlier, this issue is one of the main reasons I became a candidate. I would have absolutely voted against the stadium upgrades.  Governmental leaders need to be stewards of the community’s tax dollars. If government had $100 and FSU was asking for $1 that would have been feasible.  But, when government has $5 and FSU is asking for $1, that’s a whole different story . . . and that’s our story today. FSU has other ways to get the money. Government doesn’t. We would have been much better off setting up business development services and programs to support local businesses, especially in impoverished areas with that money. I can only imagine the magnitude of effects on the people, neighborhoods, and businesses if, say, $10,000 grants were awarded to support locally run small businesses with that $27 million. Our priorities are wrong and that needs to change.

8)  We appreciate your time and you sharing your thoughts with us.  Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to tell us yet that you would like our neighborhoods to know?

Elections have consequences. Exercise your right to vote! Vote like your life depends on it. Many people, especially in our low-income parts of the city and county, feel that it doesn’t do any good to vote; things don’t change no matter who wins. I still believe in voting to achieve change. Too many people have worked too hard for too long to make sure everyone has the right to vote. I want to be the change agent that can make things happen.  I don’t accept campaign contributions from wealthy developers seeking their own return on investment. I’ve demonstrated my commitment to making my community more prosperous, safe, informed, and involved. I will be a consistent voice for my community.

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