Bottom-Up Economic Investment
A 2015 study by the Martin Prosperity Institute entitled Segregated City, determined that Tallahassee has the highest level of economic segregation in the country. This is unacceptable! If elected, I plan to tackle the issue head on by using a strategy of bottom-up economic investment. This will mean taking a hard look at the Tallahassee budget to determine where funds may be wasted and redirecting those funds to public resources in the most impoverished areas of Tallahassee.
This means reconsidering the role of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) which has pumped millions of dollars into "brick and mortar" development for private industry, and contributed to gentrification. Some recent misappropriation of CRA funds include refurbishment of an Envision Credit Union, building privately owned apartment complexes, the LOEWS Hotel, and a $4 million dollar building for the AC Hotel by Marriot. Rather than assuming the investment risk for private companies, I propose that we use that money, and other public funds to build quality public housing facilities, create job training programs, improve community healthcare options, expand public transportation, and provide affordable and free childcare options to the cities most vulnerable families. I am committed to reaching out to community stake holders to ensure unprecedented public participation, and complete transparency as we tackle Tallahassee's most pressing issues.
Leon County Public Schools has had an education gap for far too long. Schools are becoming increasingly more segregated as funding and education quality varies from one neighborhood school to the next. As commissioner I will do everything in my power to give the students, teachers, support staff, and parents what they need to succeed.
In some cases, schools at the same level begin the school year with significantly different amounts of funding per student. We need to put an end to funding that is largely based on property taxes of the area surrounding the school. The way that we fund schools has kept our schools segregated, and as wealth gaps increase, school segregation increases as well. Segregation is accentuated by programs like “School Choice” that allow for parents to apply to move their children to a higher performing public school, a charter school, or even get a voucher to a private school. This has tended to leave lower income areas with schools suffering from lower student counts and lower test score averages. Lower test scores negatively impacts funding, and causes the cycle to repeat itself. In other words, the current system allows for the higher performing schools to keep getting better, while essentially punishing the poorer performing schools, by creating bigger obstacles for them to reach the same levels of achievement. While the funding policy and School Choice is set at the state level, the School Board, County, and City governments have discretion in how funding is distributed and how School Choice is administered.
The way we move forward is by working with our teachers, students, and parents to redefine equity in our communities and reaffirm that public education is not going anywhere. Teachers and support staff are the most committed, experienced, and knowledgeable resources that we have to improve our education system. At the local level we need to work closely with the LCTA and LESPA to ensure that our schools are funded equitably and every child has access to quality public education. At the state level I am committed to helping these unions build their membership to empower them in their fight against the state for higher wages, fully funded schools, and against further privatization of our schools. The message I will send as commissioner is clear, without equal access to quality public schooling, democracy is lost, and the assault of public schools children, parents, and teachers, is a direct assault on democracy.
Affordable housing is a crucial issue in Tallahassee. I believe that everyone has a right to quality housing. While this is a multi-faceted issue which will require funding from federal, state, and local governments, I believe that there are steps that we can in the City of Tallahassee to solve the housing crisis.
According to the Tallahassee Housing Authority we only have 544 public housing units in Tallahassee. Tallahasseeans who apply for public housing or Section 8 housing end up on a wait list, sometimes for months or years at a time. Tallahassee's investment public housing is abysmal. We need adequate investment in maintaining and improving existing public housing structures, in purchasing existing structures to turn in public housing units, and to build new quality structures when necessary.
The money is there. The current commission is planning to spend approximately $78 million on the Welaunee Bulevard project, over two phases. This project will expand the city of Tallahassee outward, while leaving the current citizens without adequate housing as it exists today. Furthermore, it is investing in an area of town that is already affluent. These resources can be better used by investing in public housing.
Public housing should be a consideration for both low income and middle income Tallahasseeans. By building mixed income affordable public housing we would increase the supply of available housing which would pressure private leasers to decrease their rates. Finally, I believe that we should consider implementing Community Land Trusts to advance housing security.
Unions & Wages
I believe that all workers deserve a living wage and dignity on the job. The best way to achieve this is by empowering workers to unionize their workplaces. I commit to standing with any group of workers who desire to unionize their workplaces and giving voice to their concerns. While, in most cases, a city commissioner is unable to legislate a union into existence our power as an advocate can go a long way to protecting and amplifying workers attempting to unionize and those working to grow their union membership. A few examples of this include, but are not limited to:
- I commit to supporting and voting for voluntary recognition of a union for city workers and city bus drivers. I will also aid in the unionization efforts in any drive to unionize city workers through the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) process, in any way that I can.
- There are about 19,500 State of Florida employees working in Leon County making it the largest employer in Tallahassee, by a large margin. About 12,000 of these workers are union eligible. Yet, these vital public servants have lost about 25% of their purchasing power since 2006, according to AFSCME, a fact that has been devastating to the local economy. I commit to continue to standing with state workers as they fight to build their union membership and win desperately needed pay increases and improvements in their collective bargaining agreement.
- I plan to work closely with the AFL-CIO and other local unions to identify other large businesses that abuse their employees who may be interested in unionizing their workplace.
Finally, the wages for all workers are too low. While it may be impossible to raise the minimum wage at the municipal level, because of a state preemption law that prevents it, I will stand with workers as they demand a $15 dollar minimum wage across the state. I will also bring a motion for an ordnance requiring any private business who receives public monies or city contracts to pay their workers at least $15 dollars per hour.
I believe that everyone deserves a safe and prosperous community to live. Forty years of expanding law enforcement budgets and cuts to community investment has not achieved this goal. Forty years of increased surveillance and militarization of the police has produced friction and mistrust from the community. Fortunately, we have the benefit of forty years of sociological research. What it tells us is that the best way to deter crime is to decrease poverty and inequality, and invest in community revitalization.
Rather than continuing to expand the police budget and building the proposed $60 million police headquarters I propose that we use these funds to invest in public housing, infrastructure, public transportation, and affordable and free healthcare and childcare.
In order to rebuild trust we need to implement real community control of police. In response to growing concern over appointment of Police Chief Lawrence Revell and three subsequent Police involved shootings the city commission proposed and approved a Citizen Review Board (CRB). However, the CRB lacks the power to provide real oversight. It will have appointed, instead of elected, representatives. It will be able to make recommendations but has no independent power.
Instead, I propose a Citizen Police Accountability Council (CPAC). The CPAC will give the citizens of Tallahassee real control over our police force. It will require that council members be elected by the citizens of Tallahassee. It will have the power to subpoena witnesses and can discipline officers, up to dismissal. I believe that to make truly safe communities, the people must have control over the police in their communities.
Corruption and Accountability
The past few years in city government have been fraught with charges of corruption. While some charges have been ideologically driven attacks meant to discredit certain individuals, others have produced substantiated evidence to indicate that corruption is wide spread enough to merit the city's full attention. I believe that a full ethics investigation into wrong-doing should be completed by an outside entity with no affiliation to the city. And, moving forward the city should have more transparency regarding its big dollar projects (see section on Democratic Participation).
While some people get into government to line their own pockets, my 25 year history as a community activist asserts my commitment to treat my job as a city commissioner in a different way. I will prioritize improving the lives of the most vulnerable in the city and bringing equity back into our communities. To accomplish this we must take seriously any misappropriated funds siphoned to any business or business affiliates of city commissioners or appointed city officials.
I am committed to bringing democracy to the citizens of Tallahassee. I recognize that people have to work, sometimes two, three, or four jobs just to make ends meet. We have families, every day responsibilities, and unexpected emergencies. It is not always easy to stay engaged in the democratic process. Additionally, the barriers to involvement are often great; inconveniently timed meetings, poor advertisement of City Commission events and public input sessions.
A couple of years ago, I was involved in the fight to have the annual City Commission retreats recorded for public record. I was also a part of the demands to have public input sessions about the location of the potential new police headquarters. Both demands were met, and this increased the public's ability to participate in our democracy.
If elected, I will fight to have the city commission meetings at a more convenient time so that workers have more opportunity to participate. I will seek to have city projects more widely disseminated in the community so that people are aware of the decisions we are making before those decisions are finalized.
Finally, I believe that democracy should be brought to the people. It shouldn't be the responsibility of overburdened citizens to make time to come to City Hall to give input. To this end, I will make a commitment to visit Tallahassee neighborhoods and actively reach out for public input on pressing city issues. I will make an extra effort to get input from historically underrepresented populations in Tallahassee.
Public Transportation in Tallahassee is entirely inadequate. Star Metro only has 15 routes across the entire city, running every 30 minutes during peak times, and every hour during non-peak times. It runs from 6 A.M. to 7:30 P.M, then switches to 5 nighttime routes which go until 11 P.M. Saturdays and Sundays are even worse. It is outlandish that a city of nearly 200,000 with an urban population closer to 250,000 has such scant service.
The most impacted by the lack of service are lower income people who have few other options but to ride the bus. Ironically, lower income people are more likely to work "off peak" jobs, on the second or third shift and/or need to go directly from one job to the next. Low income people are more likely to need to go to the laundromat which are not always easily accessible by foot. And grocery store closures across town make grocery shopping less accessible by foot.
Yet, an expansion of public transportation services would be a boon for the entire city. A competent public transportation system would inspire middle and higher income residents to abandon their cars and ride the public transportation system full time. This would be consistent with the cities commitment to environmental sustainability. It would also mean planning for future population growth in a sustainable way. Rather than expand roads for automobiles, it makes much more sense to spend that money for expansion of public transportation. This would mean building infrastructure that would make a positive impact on the local economy.
As commissioner I would fight to increase the bus routes around the city, expand service hours, and hire more bus drivers to run routes more often. This is the bare minimum to be expected to make our public transportation adequate as we move into the third decade of the 21st century. Some bigger projects that should be investigated for cost and plausibility, are; bus lanes on major roads, a light rail through North and South Monroe St, and electric street cars.
This is a matter of not letting our infrastructure fall behind, and doing our part to fight climate change.
I applaud the city commission for it's commitment to reaching 100% renewable energy by 2050. However, most scientists in the field feel that this will be too late to stave off the worst impacts of global climate change. We need to be more ambitious in our goals and achieve that more quickly. This is our commitment to our posterity.
We are also aware that the effects of environmental degradation impact our communities poor and working class residents the hardest. Pollutants are more likely to leak into the water supplies of poor communities while industrial exhaust is more likely to blow downwind into poorer neighborhoods. We must research, if and when this is happening and find ways to mitigate the problem.
Finally, a key commitment in preserving and improving our local environment is expanding our public transportation system. Decreasing our cities dependence on automobiles is vital to our commitment to environmental sustainability (see section on public transportation).
The US Census Bureau estimates that 26.7% of people in Tallahassee live below the poverty line, well above the national poverty rate of 11.8% and the poverty rate in Florida of 13.6%. Last year the Tallahassee Democrat reported that the 32304 zip code is the poorest in the state of Florida. Five zip codes including 32304, 32310, 32305, 30201, and 32303 have poverty rates above the statewide poverty rate, predominantly in the South, West, and Northwest parts of town.
I am committed to tackling poverty head on by moving resources from urban sprawl and large "development" projects and getting resources to those that need it the most through, bottom-up economic investment. The center piece of my campaign is to expand public housing, public transportation, access to free and affordable healthcare and childcare, jobs programs, and increase unions and wages. What we must understand is that for our community to thrive we need to prioritize the needs of the poor, and in turn this will improve the quality of life for our entire community.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that we must provide resources to those who have been incarcerated. I know from first hand experience that previously incarcerated people desire nothing more than to reintegrate into society by finding a place to live and a productive job. But, obstacles are even greater if you have just one blemish on your record. We must consider ways to aid them in this pursuit, simultaneously decreasing recidivism.
According to the US Census Bureau about 32,000 people in Leon County are uninsured. An even greater number are under-insured. Access to public health clinics often require appointments made far in advance and do not provide the emergency care needed in some situations. While this is a broad national and statewide issue, we owe the residents of Tallahassee broad access to free and affordable healthcare options.
As city commissioner I would investigate the most under served areas and pinpoint resources to those areas. I am not a medical professional, so we would consult with medical professionals to find practical solutions to get healthcare to those that need it the most. I would seek to redirect resources to expand access to and quality of public health services.