From the Tallahassee Democrat
AMELIA ISLAND – The gloves came off at Amelia Island.
A day after Tallahassee Chamber leaders pledged to be more vocal and visible in the issues of the day and elections, State Attorney Jack Campbell took the podium at the annual conference and dropped a bomb that will echo all the way to the 2022 local elections.
“We need Jeremy Matlow out of office,” Campbell said to loud applause. “I’m tired of him questioning the integrity of the Chamber” and others.
Campbell built up to the moment by theming his speech on a quote by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato: “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
He delivered the fiery criticism of the outspoken commissioner to the more than 200 gathered during the COVID pandemic at scattered tables and chairs across two separate rooms.
He began by hailing the service of past and current city, county and community leaders.
“But somehow the good people of our community have fallen under attack by evil men, and it needs to stop now,” he said.
It’s “silly to listen to a pizza maker about criminal justice policy,” Campbell said. We must stand up to the “evil men and their 12 trolls on Twitter,” he continued.
Matlow is a co-founder in the Gaines Street Pies pizza empire and the Wilbury.
Moments after the conference ended Sunday, Matlow texted a statement to the Democrat that he believed in “civil policy discussions.” He characterized Campbell’s comments as an “angry, personal attack.”
“Elections are one year away and there will be plenty of time to get into that,” he wrote.
He called the conference “a taxpayer-subsidized out of town retreat,” noting that the event is sponsored by the Tallahassee-Leon Office of Economic Development and that funds are expended for county and city employees to attend.
“There is a long history of blurred lines between business leaders, politics, and official city business and it needs to stop,” he wrote. “I’ll continue to do my job, which is to represent the best interest of the people of Tallahassee.”
Matlow, elected in 2018, ignited a verbal war with the Chamber after he penned a Democrat column saying business leaders had turned a blind eye to public corruption. He also decried the optics of the conference meeting during the trial of businessman J.T. Burnette, who was found guilty on five of nine counts on Friday. The Chamber responded by slapping Matlow with that organization’s first censure in its history.
‘Ignorant anti-cop’ sentiment and a commitment to public safety
Campbell had joined Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell for a morning discussion titled a “Community Commitment to Safety.” Throughout the conference, Chamber and community leaders drew a bright line linking the lack of jobs and economic growth with a stubbornly high crime rate in the capital city.
Matlow has often found himself with Commissioner Jack Porter on the losing end of votes that have been framed as pivotal for the economic vitality of Tallahassee. Matlow has generally maintained that the projects failed to solicit enough community input or that the developments failed to provide for the “public good.”
In the session, Revell alluded to the divide with Matlow and Porter when he pointed to the support of conference attendees, city leaders and from “most of the commission.” Matlow and Porter have been vocal critics of TPD policy on use of force.
He said he is often frustrated by what he called an “ignorant anti-cop” sentiment from some in the public.
We hear “at every commission meeting from the same eight people and they’re not friendly to me or the commission,” Revell said. “We have been silent for too long. It’s time for us to stand up and let our voices be heard.”
He acknowledged that building trust in the community is his No. 1 priority and said he is committed to hard conversations needed to move things forward. He added that recently a waitress in a Tallahassee restaurant refused to serve officers because of their badge and uniform.
“I know the heart of each of these men and women who serve each day,” he said. “You have the finest officers in the country working in Tallahassee today.”
A later statement from Revell declined to disclose the name of the restaurant.
“We will not be disclosing the restaurant in this case, as they have historically been supportive of Law Enforcement,” Revell said. “Following the incident, the regional manager for that establishment came into town and apologized for what happened, additionally, the waitress was relieved of their duties. I didn’t intend to point a finger at any one establishment through my comments, but rather highlight what our officers are sometimes faced with in the same community they protect and serve.”
Right direction on crime but more to be done
Revell and Campbell said the city and county are moving in the right direction on crime, but there’s more work to be done.
After years with the dubious distinction of having the highest crime rate in the state, Revell pointed to the recent state crime statistics that ranked Tallahassee with the sixth highest crime rate in the st. In 2020, Leon County law enforcement agencies reported drops in every category of crime except for aggravated assault and murder, of which it saw a record number.
“There are three things that have changed in Tallahassee and I want to change it back,” Campbell told those gathered.
- “We need you to stand up and be heard,” he said, adding that citizens are needed to serve on jury duty and not call it in.
- Lock your car doors and lock up your guns. The Democrat reported that more than 120 guns were reported stolen from unlocked vehicles this year in Leon County and Tallahassee. “These guns are immediately going down to 32304 and … they are killing people.”
- Encourage witnesses of crime to speak out. Campbell noted that too often crimes and shootings are committed while large crowds are present but that people aren’t willing to come forward and speak with police.