County Commission District 2: Will Crowley

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 live in the Cypress Cove neighborhood, which is on Lake Hiawatha in the Cascades Lakes chain in southwest Tallahassee. I have Master degrees in Urban Planning and in Public Administration from FSU.  Growing up in rural Polk County, Florida and the variety of jobs I’ve worked gives me important experiences, skills, and ways of listening to people that I feel prepare me well to serve the people of District 2 as well as Tallahassee and Leon County as a whole. Most recently, I’ve worked as a budget analyst for the legislature and am now a budget manager for the FSU College of Medicine. I’ve learned to read and analyze budgets, to write and interpret legislation, and to understand the need for, but limits to, the staff role in shaping policies.

While I don’t live in the nearby Meadows Mobile Home Park (now called Florida Sun Estates), I recently was involved in helping the residents there after the new owner raised the rents through the roof. I got particularly upset that the new owners barricaded a side gate to the park that children who attended Sabal Palm could use to walk safely to and from school, chaperoned by teachers and away from traffic.

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

My three priorities as a commissioner are:  more affordable housing, stronger environmental stewardship, and boosting public trust in local government. The recent events that relate to those priorities and drove me to run for office were the Doak Stadium improvements funding and the Welaunee extension of the urban service area. Both of these issues reflect the race to the bottom our current political leaders espouse to curry the favor of big donors while disregarding the needs of the vast majority of people in our community. These issues point to a leadership failure. We tend to promote in-house staff that support the status quo rather than giving objective wholistic advice on policy issues.

2) Comprehensive Plan Update Process

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

Yes. I have a strong academic and practical take on the comprehensive planning process. Essentially, the comprehensive plan is our constitution for smart growth.  It provides the legal framework and vision for how we want to thrive. Rather than viewing that as a strength, too often our political leaders have supported tinkering with the plan to solve small issues, often with unintended consequences. The unwarranted expansion of the urban service area is one example of where we’ve gone astray. We also do a poor job of interlinking the land use and transportation elements of the plan, as they were intended to be.

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

Citizens need to be informed on the issues and then have a respected voice in the policies that are then adopted by their commissioners. Our current methods of community involvement frequently are too staff-driven to accurately bring forth the informed voice of the people. Actually, developers too often play a disproportionate role in policy development. Our quality of life and sense of community suffers in these situations. It’s reasonable for Tallahassee and Leon County to grow and that will necessitate higher densities and other changes in some areas. But we need to have much stronger citizen involvement and for policy makers to listen to that input as we determine where and how those density increases should occur, what the most responsible trade-offs are, how to integrate multi-modal transportation options, what amenities are most community-responsive, and how to protect environmental features.

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?

The first thing we can do to help neighborhoods on this issue is to stop the no-bid land sales. We are not getting the best value for our public properties when we have a sole source contract. I would actually like to see our local governments buying more land for housing and environmental protection.

When we have a site like Northwood Mall, we should give nearby neighborhoods a stronger voice for how the site is developed compared to other residents. They need to see the value of what gets put on the properties.  It’s important, too, that the people that live nearby can continue to live nearby. In low-income neighborhoods, we can’t have public properties converted to developments that raise surrounding home values to the point that property tax increases force people out of their homes, whether they are owners or renters.

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?

As an urban planner, I certainly agree. Over the past 20 years we’ve learned how to redesign urban areas to make them more livable–everything from supporting local business areas, as in Midtown, installing protected bike lanes and safe sidewalks, reducing traffic speeds through road design, creating multi-modal hubs that make mass transit and alternative transportation options more viable, and the like. It’s a policy choice to implement these improvements. We have been slowly evolving in that direction, but we need to be doing more and not just in the affluent areas. When we are looking at more controversial options, such as no parking minimums and zero lot line developments, we need to do a much better job of educating and working with citizens to determine where, how, if, and when these could contribute to livability and affordability in urban areas.

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?

No, and particularly with regard to Blueprint funds. Blueprint is a sales tax and as such it is a regressive tax that has a disproportionate impact on low-income residents. Yet even while “paying more” low-income residents are getting less benefit from Blueprint projects, particularly in my district and District 1 of the county. The FSU stadium funding is simply the latest and perhaps most egregious example of this reality. We need to do a much better job of bringing low-income residents into the community decision-making process regarding what projects Blueprint funds. Instead of big-ticket items like the stadium and widening roads, we should be focusing on creating livable communities where people can live, work, shop, and play.  Imagine what a different world it would be if something like that could have been done in the area around the Meadows Mobile Home Park. Also, when Blueprint funds projects, we should prioritize employing local vendors. Finally, too many projects turn out to be empty promises as the projects change from what they were first advertised to be, as with the Airport Gateway evolution.

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 are not elected so they have no inherent power. Yet, in combination with lobbyists, they have been able to amass too much power and, frankly, not enough commissioners are concerned about that. Staff expertise is important, however, that expertise should be used to facilitate not dictate policy development. I feel I am particularly capable of finding the right role for staff given my background in budgeting, policy formation, and statute writing with the legislature. I feel I can get out into my district, hear the concerns from the residents, and then work with staff to address those concerns. People will participate more fully in their government when they feel they are listened to. I believe we need more of that participation now, especially with those who feel their concerns have been ignored for so long.

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?

First, as we just discussed, I’d like for people in District 2 to feel that government works better for them. We have something like a 17% voter participation rate in the district. I feel this is driven by people not feeling government has been working for them. We need to change that. Second, the Airport Gateway will have a major impact in the district; it will be impacting many neighborhoods and can have significant environmental impacts as well. I want to be closely involved in that project to make sure it is actually a benefit to the district.

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 “NO” for two main reasons. First, it’s an economic loser for everyone except the property owners and developers, but particularly low-income people. It won’t help the housing crisis we have. The land is too far out of town and the houses will be too expensive Plus, as we know from a good deal of research, the cost of roads and city services in outlying areas do not pay for themselves through the tax revenues the subdivisions generate. Second, if you’ve seen the development in Welaunee to date, you have to be concerned about environmental integrity. The loss of trees, the land disturbance, the stormwater issues, the list could go on, but the fact is that we have land within the urban service area that could be developed to meet our needs for the next 20 years. We shouldn’t have expanded it, particularly in the northeast, for the Welaunee Arch.

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

As I’ve mentioned, I would have voted against the stadium upgrades. This is what I call an example of avocado toast projects; good for the well-to-do, but not affordable for many middle- and low-income residents. FSU could have easily reduced some of the funding they were putting into the luxury expansion aspects of the project and allocated that money to the safety improvements Blueprint funded. Given the impact of the funding on the economic development funds of Blueprint and the lack of any benefits to a significant proportion of Leon county residents, this was a no brainer to turn down.

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?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m running a low budget, word of mouth campaign and I’m proud of that. I’m doing a lot of knocking on doors to introduce myself to residents of District 2. That’s OK  I’m a fighter and I’m willing to walk the extra miles, take the extra time, and have the open ears to listen to the concerns of the folks that live in the district. I’m not doing the one-direction communication of radio and TV ads  Not only am I getting out to listen to the residents, I’m encouraging them to vote  I think they know they won’t have to twist my arm to get me to vote in their interests. I have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to get something done on the concerns they raise. I am well familiar with what it takes to work collaboratively with other commissioners, to direct staff to bring wholistic information to policy discussions, and to evaluate budgets to allocate funds to community-identified concerns. While the situation that resulted in this district having an election this year is unfortunate, I am excited for the opportunity to do my best as a commissioner to be responsive to the needs and concerns of my neighbors in District 2 and Leon County as a whole.

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