Leaders react to Chamber’s consolidation study

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Plans by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce to study consolidating local government received mixed reviews from political insiders, business and community leaders.

It’s a touchy topic. Voters rejected the notion in the past, but the idea won’t die. On Tuesday, it was resurrected after a Tallahassee-based survey revealed a snapshot of what residents think of city and county government.

The survey, administered by Sachs Media Group, showed more people appear to distrust the city of Tallahassee and Leon County and they favor a consolidated structure.

On the same day, the Chamber said Tallahassee was in a “climate of crisis” due to its high crime rate and an ongoing FBI investigation involving the city, the Community Redevelopment Agency and developers, and their businesses. Both issues are hurting Tallahassee’s reputation in and out of the state, Chamber officials said.

Some local leaders support the idea of consolidation. Others condemn it. Most of those asked by the Democrat what they think about the idea landed somewhere in the middle or said they’d defer to the desire of voters.

In their own words:

Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee Mayor

After the unfortunate decision by the city and the troubling vote by the county to not activate the (Emergency Operations Center) under the leadership of the sheriff, I stand in support of the study being conducted by the chamber to explore consolidation of our governments. Though I have concerns with the validity of some of the information currently being shared by local PR agencies with strong ties to the 2018 election, it has become clear that turf wars are impeding our ability to have maximum impact on addressing the crime issues in our community.

John Dailey, Leon County Commission Chairman

In the past, I have voted for two separate county resolutions supporting functional consolidation. I have always been, and remain, willing to engage in a conversation regarding consolidation of the two governments in whole or in part.

Walt McNeil, Leon County Sheriff

As sheriff, my responsibility is to coordinate a cooperative response to law enforcement resources, regardless from which government they originate, to protect our citizens.

The goal should always be to provide the most effective system of law enforcement services. This must be the one desired outcome.

Jon Ausman, retired Democratic National Committeeman

Combining the two governments sounds attractive in general, but the details of consolidation will create winners and losers. My concern is the number of commissioners and how they and the Mayor are selected.

The method of election of commissioners and the Charter adopted will determine whether the citizens of the City and County benefit. It is too early to comment.

Nancy Miller, Tallahassee City Commissioner

I can see advantages in both directions. We have two governments that do two very different things … This is really up to the citizens. Whatever they think is going to be the easiest for access to them, easiest to solve their problems and get their lives functioning flawlessly without them having to think about government … Each side has its pros and cons.

Dianne Williams-Cox, Board President of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce

The Capital City Chamber is concerned with the economic impact of any actions in the city.  If a study is necessary, it should include all chambers and be completed by local entities through facilitated workshops to educate citizens on the pros and cons of consolidation and then measure the support for or against consolidation.

Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr. , Pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church

It is now the time and season to begin a positive conversation about consolidation. I strongly believe that if we are to be a vital, vibrant and visionary city of this 21st century, then it is necessary that we have one government. To “rebrand” this city is to make this bold step.

We will never build the dynamic economy that we need in this city that will create good paying jobs; close the income gap between races and neighborhood; lower the serious health disparities; and yes decrease the crime rate, if we don’t do local government differently. I firmly believe that consolidation is the way forward.

Will Croley, President of Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Associates

NEBA has always stood for taxpayer value, efficient and accountable government, a safe community, and an environment conducive to a strong and growing private sector. We welcome a study that explores if those goals can be better achieved and maintained through consolidation of governments. A thorough study would not only allow us to understand any benefits but also the consequences of such a serious undertaking.

Jessica Lowe-Minor

Executive director of Institute for Nonprofit Innovation and Excellence

As the community is contemplating consolidation, an important consideration must be the impact on the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits support 1 in 10 jobs in Leon County. How would consolidation help or hurt nonprofits’ ability to support their workforce and strengthen the overall community through their services and programs?

Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee City Commissioner

We certainly don’t lose anything by exploring the idea of consolidation. What remains to be seen is what the expectations are of all city/county residents and will consolidation deliver on their wishes.

Bill Proctor, Leon County Commissioner

Having a few crooks in government should not alone necessitate consolidation. Jesus was crucified between two crooks. Good people are often surrounded by crooked people. System failure should not be mistaken for people failure and crookedness. And crookedness by people does not indicate that a system of government has failed. Any system of government will be only as good as the persons whose character helps to hold it up and administer it.

Sean Pittman, lobbyist and founder of the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce

Consolidation isn’t a silver bullet, but it could be the spark we need to get law enforcement to work more cooperatively together. Though I think the notion of the community mistrusting local government isn’t substantiated by anything concrete, I do think it’s a healthy conversation that I hope leads to the actions steps we need.