Village Square hosts Tallahassee Town Hall

City Commissioner Jack Porter speaks at Wednesday’s town hall.
Photo courtesy: Devin Myers

Amidst a wave of political turmoil throughout Tallahassee, the Village Square brought
together commissioners from the city and county for the 11th annual Tallahassee Town
Hall, addressing several of the pressing issues the capital city is facing.

Hosted by WFSU’s Tom Flanigan, the first panel Wednesday at WFSU studios featured
Mayor Pro-Tem Dianne Williams-Cox and City Commissioners Jack Porter and Curtis
Richardson. Flanigan began the town hall on a light-hearted note before diving headfirst
into the uptick in violent crime in Tallahassee over the past several years.

Richardson shared a personal story of gun violence in his neighborhood, assuring the
crowd that with the cooperation of local government and the community at large, the
scourge of violent crime in Tallahassee can be reduced.

“We’ve committed our dollars, time and resources to addressing that issue as a
community,” Richardson said. “We won’t be able to police ourselves out of this problem.
This community is going to have to come together and combine its resources and
talents and desires to make that a reality.”

The panel then discussed the recent unrest surrounding a protest which took place
outside of Tallahassee City Hall, which resulted in 11 arrests – including Florida
Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried and Senate minority leader Lauren Book.

Porter expressed displeasure over how the situation was handled by local law
enforcement, claiming that the protesters “weren’t disrupting any government function
and weren’t a danger to others or to themselves.”

“We have a special responsibility as the capital city, not only to residents of Tallahassee
but also to all of Florida,” Porter said. “We have the opportunity to be a place of refuge
for those who want to express their views peacefully.”

The discussion continued with the current state of employment in Tallahassee, as
Williams-Cox recalled her experience growing up in Gadsden County, working in the
tobacco fields to provide income for herself and her family. Similarly, Richardson spoke
of the limited local job market that he faced as a young adult, and how the variety of
jobs made available to the community has vastly expanded in the decades since.

“When I first came to Tallahassee, this was a government and college town, and those
were the jobs that you got,” Richardson said. “You stayed on one of those jobs or had a
position in one of those state departments for 30 years and you retired with a pretty
decent retirement pension, but that’s no longer the case.”

The Leon County Commission panel – comprised of Chairman Nick Maddox and
Commissioners David O’Keefe, Rick Minor and Brian Welch – later convened and
jumped straight into the discussion, covering similar ground as the city commissioners.

Civility was a subject of particular focus in the early goings, as Maddox began by giving
the example of a recent chamber meeting that went late into the night and saw divisive
issues deliberated upon yet remained civil due to the example set by the members of
the commission.

“We have to lead by example in the way we think and thinking that everything we do is
for the community,” Maddox said. “If another commissioner comes up with an idea that
is better for the community than me, then I am going to actually acquiesce to that idea
and not stick to what I thought was best, but instead what was best for the community.”

As the conversation developed, state-level preemption became a hot topic on the panel,
amid the ongoing Florida legislative session which has produced several controversial
bills that may override legislative efforts made on a local level.

Minor firmly addressed the matter, explaining that, “One of the things that is going to
make it harder for us [to reduce violent crime] is – to be frank and I don’t mean to get
political – the permitless carry legislation that just became law.”

Maddox took the anti-preemption sentiment a step further by asking the crowd of
community members sitting before him, which of them would rather approach the
Legislature with policy concerns over local legislation, to which not a single hand was