The two candidates for City Commission Seat 2 see Tallahassee and the problems it faces very differently.
Incumbent Curtis Richardson thinks Tallahassee is one of the state’s best run cities and wants to keep it on its current path.
Opponent Steven Hougland thinks Tallahassee’s path is unsustainable, that the level of crime, taxes and spending are all too high.
Richardson, a former state representative, was elected to the Tallahassee Commission in 2014 replacing Andrew Gillum who became mayor. Richardson said, “I’m committed to being part of the leadership that continues the initiatives that we’ve got going, addressing growth of our economy, and creating private sector jobs, preserving our neighborhoods, and bringing growth and development to every aspect of our community.”
Hougland said, “I really decided to jump in (the city commission race) when I saw Curtis Richardson running unopposed. I looked at Curtis’ voting record of increased taxes, increasing spending and not taking a strong stance against crime. I just didn’t think it was right for him to be re-elected without giving people a choice. I didn’t want him re-elected by default.”
Hougland is a 30-year law enforcement veteran with a doctorate in Public Affairs, who is an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Bainbridge State College.
One of the big draws for Hougland when he moved from Orlando to Tallahassee was its safety and tranquility. “I never thought that I would see more violent crime in Tallahassee than I did working 16 years in Orlando’s highest crime areas, on the street with Orange County sheriff’s office.”
He said the dramatic increase in Tallahassee’s violent crime rate was caused, partially, by the “police department being neglected by the city commission for many, many years. They fell way behind in hiring. They were understaffed and had less officers to commit to crime-ridden parts of town. Now they are trying to catch up.”
Richardson said, “We had gotten behind on the number of police officers based on population growth. The city commission has committed to hiring 33 new police officers. At the end of this fiscal year they will be trained and on board.”
Both candidates support community policing practices, in which the police work with the communities to develop trust and relationships, but they vary greatly on other solutions.
Richardson looks to Chicago for answers. “I support the Cure Violence model brought back from Chicago. I’m pushing that,” he said, although he admits he hasn’t gotten much support. “It involves looking at crime like a health disease, treating it as such, trying to get to the root cause of what’s causing crime in these neighborhoods. It’s community led, not a police initiative.”
Hougland suggests a different approach. He advises using multi-agency task forces, comprised of city police, the sheriff’s office, and federal law enforcement agencies working together in those high crime areas. “Violent crime is up but arrests are down, as a policing professional and someone that teaches criminal justice, that doesn’t make sense. Arrests should be up and they should be dramatically up, but they’re down.”
Hougland also disagrees with Richardson’s approach to city spending and taxing. Recently the City of Tallahassee announced big pay raises to several assistant city managers. These raises followed closely on the heels of the commission passing a 13 percent property tax increase, the largest single property tax hike in the city’s history.
“Here is just an egregious example of city spending out of control and out of touch with the realities of what the residents of the city are living with every day,” said Hougland. “We have a hand-full of people the city manager has given these huge raises to, some in the $40 to $50 thousand range, while the median family income in Tallahassee is $39,000 per year. I think it is hard for a lot of people to understand or accept a pay raise that’s more than what a family earns in a single year.”
Richardson denied that the raises were excessive, although he admitted the issue could have been handled better. “I understand, that it didn’t play well in community and the city manager apologized about how he rolled it out. He should have educated the public better.”
Richardson explained, “The city manager studied the city’s organization, made changes and consolidated departments, cut 10 administrative positions, and saved $1 million this fiscal year. People in those positions took on additional responsibilities and he’s compensating them for that.”
On taxes, Richardson said, “We are the only city in the state of Florida now that has eliminated the business tax. We have also reduced the millage rate which will save property and business owners next year.”
Hougland said the change in millage rate, “does not change the 13 percent property tax that went into effect last year. Curtis supported the proposed 27 percent property tax increase numerous times and voted in favor of the 13 percent increase.”
“Unless you are well-informed and paying attention, people think property tax is going down and it’s not,” he said. “Even with 2.3 reduction, when residents get their TRIM notice in a couple of months they are going to see their property tax has gone up over last year. It went up 13 percent last year and they will see it go up again this year, still, and the city won’t acknowledge that. That’s fundamentally disturbing to me,” Hougland concluded.