City Commission takes up big topics at annual retreat

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
January 10, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Tallahassee City Commission met Wednesday for its annual retreat, discussing some of the big topics it'll be taking up in 2018.

The bulk of the meeting focused around four key items including public safety, governance of the airport, economic development and hiring a new city manager.

According to Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo, the overall crime rate for 2017 was down 14 percent, although homicides hit a record high this year for the entire county.

DeLeo attributes the decrease in crime to a few key efforts includes the joint efforts made by the Public Safety Collective, community policing, new cameras in the Bond Community, identifying crime hot spots and a most wanted list, among other things.

As for the future of TPD, residents can be on the look out for a new phone app that'll launch soon, more cameras placed throughout the community, a body camera program that will come to fruition and movement on securing a location for a new Public Safety Campus.

That campus, also known as the new TPD headquarters, could include public meeting space, community basketball courts and more, all to allow more interaction and ease of access to the police force. DeLeo hopes it'll be located on the south side of town, with the city hoping to acquire a location by the end of 2018.

Next up, was a discussion on the airport.

Currently, it is operated and owned by the City of Tallahassee. However, the commission is considering different governance options, primarily looking at an airport authority ran model.

"We've been frozen in time to some degree in airport progress here," said Commissioner Nancy Miller, who welcomed the discussion.

The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce pushed the idea last year.

"Airfare continues to be one of the top feedback points from our businesses, the ability to move in and out of our community," said Sue Dick, President of the Chamber.

According to a presentation made at the retreat, the airfare cost for TLH is 68 percent higher than the national average.

However, Commissioner Scott Maddox scoffed at the idea that switching governance methods would affect that.

"Someone would have to demonstrate to me how a change in governance could possibly affect fares. Because I don't know of how that could happen," said Maddox. "The bottom line is the airlines set the fares. And what we want are lower fares going in and out of Tallahassee. That's not going to be affected one way or another by the governance structure."

Benefits for the authority-ran model include a stronger focus on business, an allowance to represent an entire region and not just a city, the ability to act faster and with fewer hurdles and more continuity. However, it's downsides include issues with the purchasing services at a lower cost.

On the other side, municipal-ran airports have the advantage of access to city services, a tie to the community and city resources to run the airport. On the downside, this model may not be as "airport centered" because local leaders have many other areas of focus.

Commissioners also mentioned that authority ran airports may be able to offer a more competitive salary for airport directors, which
could help the turnover rate for the current position.

If the commission were to move forward with the change, it could take a year or two to actually happen. And, they'd have to deal with how to handle the land and assets, which are currently city property, as well as the fate of city employees currently working there.

Commissioners were left with more questions than answers and plan to continue discussion on the topic.

"Businesses when they locate here, they have to look at all these elements. And they are constrained by some degree by the availability of services here. So we need to set some firm goals, set some firm objectives, and then figure out what it takes to get us there," said Miller.

The group also dove into economic development.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tallahassee has the fastest growing GDP in the state of Florida. It's
also out pacing the state and the nation in growth.

As far as development goes, 95 development projects are currently in various stages across the city. Those include the Cascades Project, redevelopment of the old homeless shelter, Welaunee and more.

City leaders applauded the development numbers.

"Much of the projects that have been underway, much of the growth that has happened, has been right here in the City of Tallahassee. It's not been dependent on what the state has done,or anybody else. It's been dependent on what we've done here as a community and I think that's the best kind of growth you can ask for," said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The growth is also driven by businesses that have chosen to expand in Tallahassee, including Danfoss.

Staff said that all indicators are pointing in a positive direction for the local economy.

Finally, discussion rounded out with the hiring of a new City Manager.

A presentation was made on a possible process for moving forward. That included hiring an executive search firm to find candidates, holding a community meet and greet with those candidates, taking the candidates on a community tour, holding public interviews and selecting and negotiating with a final candidate.

This process could take six to nine months.

No official vote was taken on this topic, with the commission set to discuss the process at a future time.

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