Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Florida A&M graduate beginning his second year as the city’s top-elected official, was accused this week of being tone-deaf when it comes to diversity.
Commissioner Gil Ziffer was sharply critical of Gillum — and the process — for his appointments to various committees.
“You’re entitled to your opinion, I'm entitled to the appointment,” Gillum retorted to Ziffer’s accusation that Gillum’s mayoral appointees create committees that are either all white or all black.
During Wednesday’s city commission meeting, Ziffer spoke out early on during the consent portion of the meeting. This section regards appointments and reappointments to various city committees, which Ziffer noted were all one race or the other. These appointments may be recommended by city commission members, but are ultimately approved solely by the mayor.
Despite having the option of recommending new appointees to these committees, Ziffer voice concerns over the process.
“I don’t feel any of us have enough input on filling these slots with some of the names we might have, so I have a bit of a problem with that,” Ziffer said.
“If this proceeds, the downtown improvement authority will be 100 percent white, the Tallahassee Housing Authority will be 100 percent black, and the Environmental Board is going to be 100 percent white. I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do; we want diversity,” Ziffer added.
Gillum respectfully answered Ziffer’s concerns by stating the process he must follow in order to select members for these committees. He noted that his office has sent forms to thousands of people to apply for committee seats, but haven’t gotten the volume of responses they expected. They must then take alternative routes like consulting commissioners on their recommendations.
“If no one has ever been consulted in regard to the appointment, then I stand corrected. [But] if that is the case, then I’m happy to put something in place that will collect your feedback on an individual… that you would like to consider,” Gillum said.
It was when Gillum tried to close the conversation and proceed to the next topic that Ziffer insisted on an immediate solution. Gillum then fact-checked the commissioner by saying that the power of his position as mayor allows him to solely appoint committee members.
Ziffer briefly remained mum on the issue and silently expressed his frustration about the situation.
Committee functions are relatively important, as Commissioner Nancy Miller said, because the members are allocated public resources to support the appointments. Not only that, but the overwhelming amount of work needed to keep up with the committees requires a level of accountability.
“Have these guys… and women of every color,” she began, as she motioned to Ziffer to ensure her political correction had not fallen on deaf, steam-filled ears, “come forward to us at each meeting, [and] have someone come in with a report on their activities to date,” Miller suggested.
Commissioner Scott Maddox chimed in on the issue, and noted the oversight on past appointees who remain in their positions despite their term having expired.
"I'm in favor of deferring to the mayor’s appointments, unless there's a problem. I think what you're hearing is that there's a problem this afternoon,” Maddox said.
Maddox referred to former state Rep. Ron Greenstein, whose term on the Airport Advisory Committee had expired in June 2015, but when no reappointment was made, remained in his seat.
"I think the process is broken and we can fix it. Obviously diversity is unintentional… Let's tighten it up,” Maddox said.
Eventually the section came to a close with the commission pushing forward with the recommended appointments. The commission voted 4-1 on 4 out of 5 of the committees with appointments and reappointments; Ziffer was the one against those appointments.