‘Climate of Crisis’: Chamber calls for study on consolidating city, county governments

From the Tallahassee Democrat

The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce plans to conduct an independent study on consolidating Tallahassee and Leon County governments.

Chamber board members unanimously voted to underwrite the study during its meeting Tuesday. Its results will be shared with the community upon its completion, expected by mid-January.

“The Tallahassee community is suffering through a climate of crisis created by a lingering FBI investigation into alleged corruption in local government, coupled with a violent crime rate that is the highest in all of Florida,” the Chamber said in a statement.

“As a result, public trust and confidence in local government is badly shaken and heavily eroded, and public safety remains a daily priority concern.”

The Chamber has more than 1,400 members, who represent roughly 55,000 employees. In recent months, it has taken a more public stance on issues affecting the business community. Leon County’s crime rate is the highest in Florida for the third straight year, according to data submitted to the state annually. In addition, an ongoing FBI investigation into public corruption has tarnished Tallahassee’s reputation.

“We are hearing from existing businesses, and even … outside the market where the perception of Tallahassee and what we are facing, be it the crime or be it the corruption, continues to be brought forward,” Dick said. “We are not going to ignore that feedback.”

Chamber officials hope to identify a firm to conduct the independent study in the coming days.

The study proposal came on the same day survey results show increasing concern among residents of Tallahassee’s crime crisis and the ongoing FBI probe.

Each issue on its own would be enough to spur action. The cloud cast by the two serious issues at once could be a catalyst for change, said Ron Sachs, president and CEO of Sachs Media Group, which conducted the survey titled, “Trust in Local Government and Attitudes Regarding City-County Consolidation.”

“The stage is set is for a community conversation about consolidation,” Sachs said. “People are not apt to want to make a significant change, like in the change in what the form of government would be unless there’s a crisis that commands change.”

Of the survey’s 1,469 respondents, about two thirds (64 percent) showed some level of support for consolidation; 37 percent showed strong support and 27 percent showed “somewhat” support.

Voters rejected referendums for consolidation in the past. The idea surfaced again in May during a brainstorming session when a delegation of business and government leaders visited Nashville, Tennessee, on an inter-city trip sponsored by the Chamber.

Nashville leaders talked about how consolidation was a key driver toward moving the Music City forward. Back in Tallahassee, insiders have talked about whether consolidation could help local law enforcement get a handle on crime.

Chamber officials think the pendulum has swung in the direction of consolidation and the community is ready to give the idea another look.

“There’s been some discussion on whether the alleged corruption, high crime rate and disparities that we have, could consolidation help alleviate that,” said Heidi Otway, newly elected chairwoman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

“We don’t know the answers to that,” Otway said, “but we need to start having a conversation to determine if that is the route we go.”

Contact TaMaryn Waters at tlwaters@tallahassee.com or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.