Candidates for the Leon County Commission District 1 squared off in a forum Tuesday, addressing poverty, crime, development and economic investment in the South Tallahassee community.
The joint forum was hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat, WFSU and the League of Women Voters and presented questions to Terrance L. Barber, Donna Pearl Cotterell and incumbent Bill Proctor.
The district stretches from Tharpe Street through downtown and southeast to Woodville and Tram Road and includes portions of the 32304 zip code, the poorest in the state.
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Barber, the director of membership services with the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce, and Cotterell, an educator, artist and activist, are challenging Proctor who is seeking his seventh term as a Leon County Commissioner.
Watch the full forum here.
Here are excerpts:
What is the No. 1 issue for District 1?
All three candidates said poverty is the main issue affecting the district.
Barber: “District 1 is a predominantly Black district. What District 1 lacks is the infrastructure to sustain equitable Black businesses within Black neighborhoods. There is an illusion of inclusion when it comes to District 1 and development. The community there has become so impoverished that the value is being seen by those on the outside.”
Cotterell: “Poverty is the main issue. The median income in 32304 is $24,000 a year. Many are struggling with basic needs such as housing and health care and these issues are more compounded by poverty. We have a responsibility for those living in poverty to help them.”
Proctor: “Poverty no doubt. Access to jobs, educational training, health care all of the indicators suggesting people are struggling.”
Do you believe the county commission is doing all it should to support affordable housing options?
Barber: “We can’t say we are helping out with affordable housing when we’re displacing poor people from communities such as Orange Avenue apartment complex. We have projected developments coming up on Ridge Road… right now their means of affordable housing is trailer parks, and these trailer parks aren’t always the most suitable living conditions to live, work and play. When it comes to affordable housing, I do not think we’re doing all we can do.”
Cotterell: “The median income makes it nearly impossible to meet those basic needs like housing and if we’re not building affordable housing we’re displacing families. We definitely have to address affordable housing and look into tiny homes or container homes.”
Proctor: “The county in my guestimation is not doing all it can to address the variables of affordable housing. Yet it should be understood that the county has no statutory mandate to be a broker of housing. We do not set the interest rates. We do not set the pricing of homes. We have little control over market factors. We’ve not exhausted what we can do, but we do not have the responsibility to do that at all.”
What initiatives will you take to make our communities safe from crime?
Barber: “Culturally a lot of the violence plaguing our communities of color once again are symptomatic of poverty. We have to start better training our workforce. We have to get inside of the county school system and implement programing whereas some of these young adults have other things to look forward to post-graduation other than college. Right now what we get from our current leadership is a lot of answers but they’re not listening.”
Cotterell: “It starts, believe it or not, with reading, with literacy. We are very low in our reading levels and were losing our kids, our students are dropping out at the middle school level. When they’re out there in the streets and not at school we have to find things for them to do. How about some art-based programs? As a city we fund a lot of arts-based programs but very few in the Black community and even fewer in the District 1.”
Proctor: “Clearly Sheriff McNeil has just been revolutionary with respect that we cannot law enforce our way out of crime. His men and boys initiative that has been brought forward is excellent. Mental health is something that has been ignored. When you look at the five-year study the Sheriff has made, the Anatomy of a Homicide, you find confluent elements, poverty, low school preparation and mental health. We have issues we’ve ignored.”
Forum coming Tuesday, June 28
Join us at 1 p.m. on our Facebook and YouTube channels for a discussion with candidates for County Commission District 3, Joey Lamar, incumbent Rick Minor and Damon Victor
Contact Karl Etters at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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