The Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates (NEBA) held a political forum on Tuesday for candidates seeking positions on the City Commission. NEBA, with approximately 250 members, routinely provides opportunities for candidates to introduce themselves to the business community and to answer questions about issues important to their membership.
This year two seats on the City Commission are up for election. Current City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who occupies Seat 2, is being challenged by Steven Hougland.
Also, City Commission Seat 1 is on the ballot this year. However, current City Commissioner Scott Maddox, who occupies Seat 1, has opted to run for Superintendent of Schools. This means there will be no incumbent on the ballot.
Current candidates vying for this position include Rick Minor, Gloria Pugh, Bruce Strouble and Luther Lee.
City Commission Seat 2
During comments on the candidates top priorities, Mr Richardson spoke about accomplishments by the City that has made Tallahassee “a very business friendly environment.” He spoke about streamlining the permitting process and the lowered utility costs that have occurred due to reductions in fuel expense. He also lauded the City’s decision to focus on business incubators.
Mr. Hougland said his top priorities are to repeal the 13 percent increase in property taxes the Commission approved last year and to reduce crime. Hougland said “[W]e can’t attract businesses to a high crime area like we’re seeing now.” He added that the old approach of luring business to town should give way to a new approach focused on growing businesses already operating in the community.
During the debate, the discussion revealed issues where City Commissioner Richardson and Mr. Hougland agreed and clearly disagreed.
First, both candidates supported body cameras for police officers and both spoke favorably about the new economic development approach that is focused on incubating new businesses.
Two clear disagreements were centered around property taxes and a vote Mr.Richardson made in favor of extending the business hours of bars and restaurants from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Mr. Hougland said he would vote to repeal the 13% property tax increase by finding reductions in spending.
City Commissioner Richardson, who voted for the 13% property tax increase, spoke about the need to increase a property tax that had not changed in over ten years. He also spoke about his willingness to meet with those groups that opposed the tax increase and said the increase, which amounted to $40 a year on his tax bill, would not have a huge financial impact.
On the expanded hours for bars and restaurants, Mr. Richardson said the vote will help create more jobs and noted the change in business hours does not affect the cessation of alcohol sales which is still 2 a.m.
Mr. Hougland said that as a retired law enforcement official he did not think it was a good idea, given our current issue with crime, to extend the hours. He argued it would put more work on an already burdened police department.
City Commission Seat 1
Given there is no incumbent running in this race, there is no voting record for candidates to challenge or defend. At times this can make it tougher to distinguish between the candidates. At the forum it did became clear that Rick Minor and Gloria Pugh are the more experienced candidates. However, Bruce Strouble and Luther Lee, both newcomers to the process, offered substantive answers about priorities.
Gloria Pugh, a local business owner, spoke about her business background and the need for accountability. She advocated for “scrubbing the budget” when it came to raising taxes and voiced the need to support workforce development. She said, “we have a serious situation with workforce development” in this community.
Ms. Pugh has been heavily involved in seeking solutions to crime issues through her affiliation with the Community Leadership Council on Gun Violence.
Rick Minor, who has held positions inside and outside of government, said his priorities include crime, helping local businesses by creating a stable business environment, and addressing South City issues.
Mr. Minor, who was Chief of Staff for former Mayor John Marks, spoke about his government experience and his ability to get things done.
Bruce Strouble, talked about the need to “bring about equitable development” across the community that is sustainable and ” to make sure that we have people prepared to go into the workforce.”
Luther Lee, who works at the Florida Department of Revenue, said that government is ineffective and he would “seek savings before raising taxes.” He argued that he is running “to put a guy in office that speaks for regular people.”
The results of the straw poll conducted by NEBA showed Gloria Pugh won Seat 1 and Steven Hougland won Seat 2.