Leon County Commission District 5 candidates talk economic development, Doak funding at forum


Candidates for the Leon County Commission District 5 seat made their case to members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club at the Donald L. Tucker Center at a forum discussion.

Paula DeBoles-Johnson, Jay Revell and Dustin Rivest fielded questions from moderator Gary Fineout of POLITICO. A fourth candidate, David O’Keefe, was absent after testing positive for COVID-19.

Throughout the hourlong forum, DeBoles-Johnson stressed the importance of economic development, calling it the community’s most pressing issue.

“It’s time for additional expansion of service when we’re talking about job training,” DeBoles-Johnson said. “All of our kids don’t want to go to school. So people say your focus is always on young people, it’s been my focus for 30-plus years. But as we say children are our future, so we must invest in them.”

All three candidates said they would have voted down the $27 million allocation to upgrade Doak Campbell Stadium.

“I personally don’t believe that stadiums are the right solution for economic development we need to be pursuing as a community,” Revell said.

DeBoles-Johnson called the deal a “want, not a need,” while Rivest said it was “a little rushed.”

The trio agreed on the need for more transparency when the conversation turned to corruption in Tallahassee, with former local officials being indicted on fraud charges.

“We need to make sure that we’re the most ethical community in Florida,” Revell said.

“It’s important that we have the community right there watching us do business,” DeBoles-Johnson added. Rivest vowed, “Every conversation I have in regards to doing the county’s work needs to be wide open.”

The candidates diverged on the issue of property taxes, as Rivest said he’d push for a reduction in the millage rate, while Revell and DeBoles-Johnson said they’d keep the rate flat for the next fiscal year, as the current Commission is preparing to do. Opting to keep the rate flat means property taxes will go up for homeowners because of the increase in property values, as opposed to the “rollback rate,” which is the rate needed to keep taxes flat for homeowners.

“I would’ve absolutely fought to roll it back,” Rivest said. “We need to figure out how to bring more revenue into Tallahassee … instead of figuring out other ways to tax people.”

Revell said he’d vote to keep the rate flat, but acknowledged that inflation is pinching everyone’s pocketbook.

“It’s very difficult right now, everything’s getting more expensive,” Revell said. “But you also have to remember, all those things we rely on, those government services that our county does so well are also getting more expensive. It’s not an easy decision.”

DeBoles-Johnson also didn’t want to see any cuts that would ensue if the millage rate was kept the same.

“We have to think about what services would be cut if we did that,” she said. “It’s a tough time for all of us but we have to think about what happens if we took that funding away.”

On the subject of housing costs, DeBoles-Johnson said she would be willing to consider rent control ordinances, such as the kind Orange County is considering, as rent hikes have hit residents across the state.

Rivest and Revell said they’re opposed to the idea, but Revell said he’d favor an ordinance requiring advance notice for any rent increase.

To combat violent crime, which has plagued Tallahassee in recent years, Revell said he favors investing more in youth outreach programs, diversion programs to keep young people out of the criminal justice system and putting more resources in community policing.

Rivest wants better cameras downtown to detect and deter property theft and other crimes, while Deboles-Johnson said more resources should be given to youth outreach organizations.

More funding is also needed to address poverty, the candidates said, although they placed different emphases on where it should go. Rivest prefers more than the $126,000 going to combat food insecurity. DeBoles-Johnson wants to secure more federal funding to address the issue, and Revell wants to see more job training programs.

Thirty-four Tiger Bay members voted in a straw poll, with Rivest leading with 13 votes. Revell and DeBoles-Johnson each had nine votes, while the absent O’Keefe got three votes.

District 5 is bounded on the east by part of downtown Tallahassee. IT includes the Capitol building, and the Myers Park and Indian Head neighborhoods, then extends west to include the areas north and south of Apalachee Parkway, including the Southwood neighborhood, to the county line.

They’re vying for a seat left vacant by Kristin Dozier, who left her post to run for Mayor of Tallahassee. The race is nonpartisan, and whoever can secure more than 50% of the vote at the Aug. 23 Primary election can win outright. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff in the Nov. 8 General election.


Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

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