City Commission candidate Steven Hougland, who is running against City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, told Tallahassee Reports that the Tallahassee Democrat required him to delete a part of his My View even after he provided factual documentation that supported his position on property taxes. An email from a Tallahassee Democrat employee supports his claim.
Property taxes had become an area of disagreement between the candidates in the race for City Commission Seat 2.
In fact, Mr. Richardson called Mr. Hougland a liar during the Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Board interview when Mr. Hougland stated that Mr. Richardson had voted to increase property taxes by 27% in 2015.
Richardson’s liar accusation, unchallenged by Tallahassee Democrat reporters present during the interview, was captured in a video that was posted on the Tallahassee Democrat’s Facebook feed and has been viewed approximately 1,200 times.
However, subsequent research supported Hougland’s claim that, in fact, Richardson had voted to increase property taxes by 27%. The Tallahassee Democrat addressed the issue days after the interview, but never posted the article on their Facebook feed.
In an attempt to refute a claim by Mr. Richardson that the City has not raised property taxes in the last 10 years, Mr. Hougland submitted a My View, around August 23rd, which stated that the City’s property tax rate increased three times in the last ten years.
Ms. Randi Atwood, the Tallahassee Democrat’s Platform Editor, asked for evidence of the three increases. Mr. Hougland submitted a document provided by the Leon County Property Appraiser’s office that showed the City’s property tax rate decreased in 2007 and increased in 2008, 2009 and 2015.
However, Ms. Atwood was “not comfortable” with the opinion piece and explained why in an email:
I’m not comfortable characterizing this as the city raising the millage rate 3 times in 10 years. They lowered it in 2007, raised it a bit (but still kept it significantly lower in 2008), then raised it back to the original level in 2009.
Mr. Hougland asked Ms. Atwood if stating the property tax had been raised twice in the last 7 years would be acceptable. Ms. Atwood still had problems and wrote:
I believe that would be misleading to call that “raising the property tax rate twice” without explaining that they first lowered it, then raised it back to the level it was.
It is important to note that Mr. Hougland’s My View was being submitted to refute Mr. Richardson’s claim that the City had not raised taxes at all in the last ten years.
Then Ms. Atwood gave Mr. Hougland a choice:
I can go ahead and publish your My View without that line, unless you’d rather I didn’t publish it.
Mr. Hougland acquiesced and the article was printed. However, the article was never posted online or on the Tallahassee Democrat’s Facebook feed.
“One of the frustrating things for me running against an incumbent is that the media has ignored issues that, if reported, would have raised the quality of the debate. The press is supposed to be impartial and not censor factual information,” said Hougland.
Hougland concluded his remarks by saying, “hopefully the voters will see what is going on.”