Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce group: Table local government consolidation discussions

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Recent talks of consolidating local government should be deferred until pressing community issues are resolved, a committee commissioned by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce found.

The committee on Friday released findings from its Local Government and Community Study. While dormant for years, the controversial idea to consolidate functions within the city of Tallahassee and Leon County government was revived after the Chamber’s 2017 delegation trip to Nashville, Tennessee, which has a combined government structure.

Another influencing factor was the ongoing FBI investigation of City Hall, which became the catalyst for a separate study completed by the Washington Economics Group. The Chamber hired the group to examine the benefits of consolidation. The group found it could be an economic boost for Tallahassee after its study examined five cities: Jacksonville, Nashville, Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky, Indianapolis, Indiana and Athens, Georgia.

The cities had employment and population growth that outpaced the national average. In addition, the city’s growth exceeded Tallahassee’s by nearly 4 percent. According to the Washington Economic Group study, consolidation could encourage more jobs growth, household income and gross domestic product, which prompted the Chamber to take a closer look with its own subcommittee.

Chamber Board of Directors President Mark O’Bryant said the committee debated about whether to advance the consolidation discussion.  But, a closer examination of other community challenges outweighed the merits of consolidation at this time.

“This was a very thoughtful group we put together that was reflective of an across-the-board look at our community,” said O’Bryant, president and CEO of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. “There was some thought of moving the consolidation agenda. But the more they looked at it, the more they began to realize there are some basic issues we need to address before we even go down that path.”

The committee’s four findings, according to the Chamber:

  • There is a clear need for increased and diversified private sector job growth.
  • There are “two Tallahassees” created and maintained by the forces of economic segregation.
  • There are specific reputation risks created by concerns such as crime and corruption that jeopardize the future success of the community.
  • There is a lack of a clear and distinguishable vision for growth that is widely accepted and believed by the community.

The committee came up with a blueprint toward addressing these issues. The first step would be to create a Community Leadership Council of local commissioners and school board members to meet once a year, and developing a community process for input on tackling the paramount issues.

In five years, a joint strategic plan should be developed by the city, Leon County and school district, according to the committee’s findings.

“Before we look at consolidation, the focus really needs to be on the issue at hand,” said O’Bryant said, adding the committee’s four finding areas are intertwined.

He also said there is a need to provide economic alternatives to local crime, a problem that dominated the 2018 elections.

“We do have a crime issue,” O’Bryant said. “I think there are some things that are improving. But if you really want to address the heart of crime, you have to give people an economic alternative to crime.”