In November 2019, Danielle Irwin filed to run for Leon County Commissioner At Large, Group 1. She is joined in the race by Melissa Villar, Jeff Hendry, Scott Flowers, Kelly Otte, Robin Colson, and Carolyn Cummings. Incumbent Mary Ann Lindley is retiring.
Irwin is currently the director of Cummins | Cederberg Coastal and Marine Engineering. She earned her Bachelor’s in Biology and Environmental Studies from the University of Southern California and her Master’s in Oceanography from Florida State University. She has also worked for the Florida Department of Education and Florida State College at Jacksonville and has run her own environmental consulting firm, DHF Consulting, Inc. Main features of her campaign include sustainable growth and community health.
What motivated you to run for local office?
“3 years ago, I attended the Oasis Center’s Women Can Run conference. While at the conference, I was empowered to pursue my goals of helping others in meaningful ways. I chose a County seat because I believe our local governments have the potential to do the most immediate good in the lives of those in our communities. I also want to inspire my own children, now 5 and 15 years old, to believe in themselves and their power to do something with their lives that improves our world starting with where we live. I am grateful for the support of my various communities that helped me weather the storms in my life and I want to ensure others feel similarly supported by their local leaders. We are in dynamic times with challenges such as climate change and infectious disease forcing us to rethink how we live and grow. I want to be part of the solution that makes our community more resilient. I have the positive attitude and dedication to continual improvement needed to help us all get back on our feet and be better than ever.”
What unique perspective would you bring to the position?
“I have had a career of balancing environmental protection with development in the State of Florida for 20 years both as a regulator and policymaker with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and as an environmental consultant. More than half of that time has been in the small business area as an entrepreneur, business owner and business developer. My educational background is rooted in science, specifically biology, ecology and oceanography. My land use experience has been related to water resource management including stormwater, water quality, wetlands, and surface waters. As a consultant, I have deep experience in land development projects of all sizes and types of clients from both the public and private sector. I have been a student of sustainable building practices for the past decade as a LEED accredited professional in my quest to guide clients and policymakers towards more eco-minded options. I also bring a health background stemming from my undergraduate pre-med degree and my years of teaching medical microbiology to nursing students. My unique background in science, business, policy, project management and stakeholder engagement will improve our Commission’s ability to maneuver issues like sustainable growth, affordable housing and community health.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Leon County?
“We are a county of great opportunity, yet we are plagued with economic disparity, community health issues, and tough decisions regarding balanced growth. Financial hardship affects the ability of our residents to thrive with good health and access to jobs that pay livable wages. Leon County hosts the poorest zip code in Florida, 32304, and other struggling areas in the rural parts of our County. Our ALICE population (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) lives above the poverty level but struggles with the cost of childcare, food, transportation, and healthcare. In Leon County, 41% of our residents fall into the ALICE and poverty categories. We must work to expand economic opportunities for this population.
Leon also stands as the 3r d most food-insecure county in Florida with food deserts in our rural areas and parts of our urban core, a statistic that affects our youth and aged community disproportionately. We must work to increase access to healthy, fresh food for our community. Good nutrition serves as the foundation for good health. Finally, Leon County has great environmental resources yet the growth decisions we make regarding our land uses can carry consequences for our water quality, rural areas, urban forest, and our resiliency in the face of climate change. Issues like water quality degradation, severe storms disrupting power supply and extreme heat already affect our County. We need balanced growth that includes smart development, infrastructure supporting renewable energy, and forward-thinking policies that prepare us to withstand harsh weather conditions.”
What is your plan to address these challenges?
“There are many different activities in our county to address food security such as meals on wheels, food pantries, backpack programs, and community gardens. Yet high levels of food insecurity remain. Grocery stores in underserved areas are one way that receives a lot of focus in the fight to feed our residents, but they represent only one tool in our toolbox. I plan to support access to healthy, affordable food through the creation of a food policy council to bring a more comprehensive strategy developed in partnership with local farmers, retailers, and community, which will connect the various stakeholders across the non-profit, private, and government sectors working throughout the local food economy. I will bring a comprehensive approach driven by data and a well-coordinated coalition of problem solvers through this council.
A thriving local economy is built on small businesses. As a former business owner while being a single mother, I have lived the benefits of being supported by great Chamber of Commerce programs which allowed me to be successful as both a businesswoman and a mother. Yet I still struggled with obstacles to market entry for larger projects and teaming opportunities. I plan to offer more targeted support to small businesses, particularly minority and women-owned, to reduce barriers to market entry and recruit underrepresented business categories. Part of this includes more requirements, incentives, and enforcement of implementation of policies relating to the inclusion of minority/women-owned small business enterprises in Requests for Proposal issued by the County and Blueprint.
Many studies show the connection between good jobs and quality of life. Florida’s large retired population and events such as our current global pandemic have highlighted the need for health care workers, thus increasing demand for those jobs even further in local markets. In addition, there is a need for highly technical jobs to support our county as the magnetic capital of the world. Leon County and Tallahassee have been focusing on providing job opportunities for skilled and technical vocations through the programs at Lively College and through Leon Works and TEMPO. I plan to broaden this focus to recruit into STEAM professions (sciences, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), many of which do not require a four year degree such as registered nurses, radiology technicians, dental hygienists, graphic designers, and air traffic controllers. I propose training, outreach, and incentive programs targeting not just high school students and at risk young adults, but also those pursuing a second (or third) career and those who are looking to improve their financial security. Strong collaboration with the private sector and our institutions of higher learning will guide additional solutions with focus on STEAM.
Balanced, smart growth requires a clear vision of the type of growth we want to see in our community. Our outdated, 30-year old comprehensive plan is a vital tool in preparing a community for growth over the next 20 years and needs to provide the policies that support our vision. I plan to lean into the pending revisions of our comp plan with an emphasis on land use and transportation. I will connect our development industry, transportation and utility sector, environmental advocates and local planners to develop a shared vision that prioritizes compact development, affordable housing, complete streets, and energy efficient development practices.”
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.