On November 2, the citizens of Tallahassee and Leon County will elect or re-elect the individuals they deem best suited to lead our community for the next four years.
Tallahassee voters must choose between primary survivors Nancy Miller and Stephen Hogge to replace Commissioner Debbie Lightsey, who is retiring from her 21-year post in Seat 3.
In the county, all registered voters will receive an opportunity to re-elect Commissioner Cliff Thaell or select challenger Nick Maddox.
To help inform the electorate, Tallahassee Reports submitted five questions to each candidate asking them to take positions on relevant issues. The questionnaires outlined simple and clear directions – answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ where possible, and if necessary, explain. All four candidates submitted responses.
According to the answers, their top issues concern job creation, government spending and government transparency. They all support posting city and county expenditures online for public access, and they all desire greater oversight of the electric utility. However, their positions on term limits provide a clear distinction. Read on for their detailed responses.
City Commission, Seat 3
As a city commissioner:
1. What will be your top priority?
Nancy Miller: My top priority is to make sure that proposed changes in our growth management permitting process are adequate to turn around our reputation as a city where permitting is extremely difficult. As an urban planner, I do not believe we are getting twice the “protection” just because permitting takes twice as long (by the city’s own study) as comparable municipalities in Florida. Another important priority is to make sure that Cascades Park reaches its potential as the downtown activity center and economic development stimulus that Blueprint 2000 intended it to become.
This “central park,” essentially a flood control project reborn from an abandoned dump site, creates a central meeting place for large population centers at Florida A&M, Florida State University and the Capitol/Downtown complex. The project has the potential to ignite business growth along Lafayette, South Monroe and Gaines Streets, with the right vision at the helm. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
Stephen Hogge: Citizen access and involvement. This is critical. It’s about getting citizens closer to their government and giving them more information so they can have more of a say in its direction. As an example, in 2006, when the county was planning to increase its budget at five times the inflation rate, resulting in a huge increase in our property taxes, I created Citizens for Property Tax Relief. The group was a vehicle for reining in excessive spending and bringing common sense to the budgeting process. Our work led to a more sustainable growth rate and the largest property tax reduction in our history. I then created the Leon County Citizens Budget Review Initiative to enable citizens to participate in a review of the budget. We developed a set of Budget Principles to make the process more transparent and accountable. I was named Volunteer of the Year for my work.
We can use a similar model with utility rates and have more citizen input. We should consider a citizen advisory board. When asked about this during the Perspectives radio program, my opponent said she was not qualified to sit on a board that reviewed the utility. She preferred to leave it to the “experts.” It’s the people’s government and we need to give it back to them.
2. Will you propose and support term limits?
Nancy Miller: No. Originally I was a supporter of term limits, but I am not happy with the results. When you have term limits, the real power lies with career staff who do not answer to the voters. At the local level, citizens are more engaged with their elected officials, and better able to make the choice as to whether to leave community leaders in place or throw them out.
Stephen Hogge: Yes, I would support term limits at the local level. I think cycling in new leadership and perspectives is important.
3. Will you propose and support an independent review of electric rates by a consumer advocate?
Nancy Miller: Yes, I support an independent review of electric rates by a qualified consumer advocate who is experienced in the field of electric generation and well-versed in the science of rate making. The supply of electricity is a critical element of our local economy and must be carefully managed. In recent years, we have heard a public outcry against the use of coal and later, objections to the cost of generating with clean fuel. The advocate must be able to balance the interests of the various segments of the community while ensuring that we have sufficient revenues to maintain a reliable, affordable supply of electricity.
Stephen Hogge: Yes, I would support an independent review of electric rates (as well as other rates). Like I mentioned above, when asked about this topic during the Perspectives radio program, my opponent said she was not qualified to sit on a board that reviewed the utility. She preferred to leave it to the “experts.”
4. Will you propose and support the online registration of lobbyists?
Nancy Miller: Yes, I absolutely will propose and support online registration of lobbyists. I can’t believe this is not currently done in city government as it is in the county.
Stephen Hogge: Yes, I would support the registration of paid lobbyists. I would not require citizens that appear before the city on a volunteer basis to register as lobbyists. I would also like to consider some sort of limit or ban on gifts from lobbyists.
5. Will you propose and support an online database, updated monthly, that will allow Internet access to city expenditures?
Nancy Miller: Yes. This will be a top priority of mine. Such access to city expenditures will provide open government and true accountability, and will put the brakes on some of the bad spending behavior exposed during recent campaigns.
Stephen Hogge: Yes I would. Transparency in all aspects of governing is critical for citizens to have confidence in their government.
Leon County Commission, At-Large, Group 2
As a county commissioner:
1. What will be your top priority?
Cliff Thaell: Getting our economy back on track; helping save jobs by helping small businesses stay open; continuing to cut the county budget as we have by more than a million dollars a month ($40 million) over the past three years; keeping the millage rate level.
Nick Maddox: Presenting innovative methods that focus on strengthening our local economy will be my top priority as the next county commissioner at-large, group 2. Leon County may currently have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Florida, but I feel that nine percent is still too high. I plan to recommend the creation of employee, utility and tax incentives to help grow our small businesses and produce jobs for our citizens. It is my objective to further streamline the permitting process and fight to remove other artificial barriers that stifle the growth potential of our small businesses.
2. Will you propose and support term limits?
Cliff Thaell: No.
Nick Maddox: Yes. The incumbent in the position I am running for has been in office for 16 years. Leon County has changed greatly since his swearing into office in the mid-nineties. Term limits can allow for fresh, new ideas in local government, more citizen input in local politics and fewer career politicians. There may be a risk of losing “institutional knowledge,” but with an ever-changing economy, that is minor in comparison to the benefit of eliminating old wasteful habits. As county commissioner, I would propose and support term limits for local elected officials.
3. Will you propose and support a utility authority?
Cliff Thaell: Yes. I support having a voice for unincorporated residents in utility rate-setting. The legal issues associated with establishing an authority will have to be worked out between the county and the city.
Nick Maddox: As a county commissioner, I will support the city’s current utility board. Decentralizing the authority to approve spending and set rates allows for the formation of novel ideas from an independent and transparent board of current utility customers. I would propose that the board’s mission be to offer specific policy proposals that can create the most cost-effective electric rates for the entire county. It is also important to me that the utility board report to the county commission along with the city, and include representatives selected by county commissioners.
4. Will you propose and support an online database, updated monthly, that will allow Internet access to county expenditures?
Cliff Thaell: Yes. I have already brought this issue up before the Leon County Commission. It is my understanding that the county administration plans to bring an agenda in the near future. I would expect these protocols to be operational by Jan. 1, 2011.
Nick Maddox: Yes. Public trust and transparency go hand-in-hand when it comes to local government. As hard economic times befall the nation and local government, constituents look to elected officials for answers concerning the spending of their hard-earned tax dollars. With Florida being a government in the sunshine, access to county expenditures is not denied. However, I do agree, and as a county commissioner, I will propose and support, an online database that allows for Internet access to county expenditures.
5. Will you propose and support a review of the fire services fee?
Cliff Thaell: No. The need for a fire service fee to provide basic fire services to unincorporated residents became evident when the county revenues dropped by some $9 million in fiscal year 2010 due to the global recession and the impact of the legislatively enacted Amendment 1, which essentially put a cap on local government revenues. The replacement revenues for the lost tax dollars could have only come from cutting approximately $7 million from the county operational budget, a drastic solution that could have resulted in the county closing every public library in the county. Residents who live within the city limits, as well as businesses and government buildings, have paid a fire services fee for some time.
Nick Maddox: Yes. As a nation, we are enduring very difficult economic times; local governments are closely monitoring their budgets and making hard decisions; families are examining their expenses and cutting down on unnecessary consumption. Determining the utility of all costly services alongside a review of all incoming fees is necessary during transitions of government. New leaders bring new ideas, new solutions, and improvement to the system. I will propose and support a review of the fire services fee.