On October 1, 2019, Jeff Hendry filed to run for the Leon County Commission Group One At-Large seat. Hendry is joined in the race by Melissa Villar, Kelly Otte, Scott Flowers, Danielle Irwin, Robin Colson, and Carolyn Cummings. Incumbent Mary Ann Lindley is retiring.
Hendry serves as the Director for the John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government at FSU—a research and technical assistance resource for state and local governments in Florida. He also serves as the Executive Director for the North Florida Economic Development Partnership, a 14 rural counties regional economic development organization. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Florida Atlantic University. Hendry’s top goals include economic development and competitiveness, reducing poverty through economic opportunity, and public safety.
What motivated you to run for local office?
I decided to run for this seat because I believe our Community is at a crossroads. We are facing many issues that will shape future generations to come. These issues include how we want to grow, develop and redevelop our community over the next 10-20 years, and how we create and build a diverse, equitable economy that provides every resident across the county the opportunity to compete for a living and high-wage job. We must also ensure that every resident is safe, no matter where they live. I believe my 30-year career working directly with local governments across Florida, including the past 11 years in economic development, will enable me to bring an informed and experienced background that will serve the community and Commission well.
What unique perspective would you bring to the position?
I believe my personal life experiences and deep roots in this community, coupled with my practical and relevant work experience in local government and economic development enable me to bring a unique perspective. I am a lifelong resident of this community of over 57 years. I grew up in poverty on the west side of Tallahassee in a trailer park. Our family was able to move to a middle-income neighborhood off Hartsfield Road. I attended public schools in Leon County graduating from Godby High School in 1981. My dad was an electrician and my mom a schoolteacher for over 30 years in the Leon County Public Schools system. I grew up in a family where hard work and sacrifice were expected, and tough love instilled. I now live in Killearn Estates—a dream I would never have thought possible. This At-Large Seat should demand a representative with an understanding of our entire community and the challenges faced by all our residents. The person serving in this position should also bring bold leadership with a practical perspective and be willing to challenge the status quo when addressing some of our most pressing issues including reducing poverty through economic opportunity.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Leon County?
For the immediate, indefinite term, it is COVID-19. The virus has ravaged our economy and devastated small and medium-sized businesses—the engines that fuel our community. It has also placed a severe strain on non-profits who provide many critical services to our most vulnerable residents. Coupled with the serious health concerns the virus presents—this must be the immediate, primary focus of our community.
When we emerge out of COVID-19—and we will, our immediate focus will need to be on how we restore and rebuild our local economy through the support of our local businesses and non-profits, how we begin to diversify this economy with a focus on middle and high skills trades, health care, and technology jobs, and how we develop and sustain a laser-focused effort to develop a pipeline of a highly trained workforce. The responsibility of the Commission is not to create the jobs, but to create an environment where there is a high degree of consistency and certainty in decision-making, and that is truly supportive of those who are trying to provide and gain access to living and high wage jobs in our community.
What is your plan to address these challenges?
Our elected officials’ responsibility is to enable and facilitate the development of a diverse local/regional economy that produces a variety of jobs with great wages and career paths. While the abundance of economic development assets in our community demand we continue to seek new and support existing businesses that often require four-year and post graduate degrees, our community must also recognize the immense value in middle- and high skills trades jobs that can lead to prosperous and stable careers, and business ownership opportunities. We must have a renewed focus on emphasizing career paths, entrepreneurship opportunities, and the training and industry certifications that are and will be in demand, and that can be accessed by a broader range of young and second career seeking adults.
Responsibilities of the County Commissioner position include making policies and setting budgets. The position has a four-year term length and an annual salary of $80,289.00. The election date is August 18.