Commission wants more input on plans for new TPD headquarters
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
A public outcry against building a new police headquarters on Tallahassee’s Southside seemingly won’t stop the plans – just delay them long enough for the City Commission to get more community input.
“I think the nature of this project we need to do this sooner than later,” said Commissioner Jeremy Matlow. “I’m not trying to slow down the process. I want to be clear; we didn’t approach the project right.
“We need to do things different in the future about how we approach $60 million projects and how we engage the community. That’s the conversation I’m trying to have. Let’s just hit the reset button.”
That’s exactly what they commission decided when it voted 3-2 to let staff decide on dates and venues for two town hall meetings this month. The vote came after a heated debate over building the new police complex in the Towne South Plaza near the South Monroe and Orange Avenue intersection.
What the commissioners did in effect was slow down plans to hire an architectural firm to design a $60 million, multi-use structure. That was supposed to take place at the meeting last Wednesday night at City Hall.
Commissioner took a vote for the town hall meetings after they deadlocked on moving forward, with Elaine Bryant abstaining, on the first vote to hire an architectural firm. Dianne-Williams-Cox, Matlow, and Bryant favored the town hall meetings.
Commissioner Curtis Richardson and Mayor John Dailey voted in favor of hiring a designer for the project. They also voted against holding more community meetings.
The commissioner found itself trying to resolve an issue that began before three of the five members were elected last year. Bryant was appointed to the board on Dec. 31, following the indictment of Scott Maddox on federal charges.
Many of the same people, who oppose the proposed location of a new police headquarters during the commission’s retreat last month, voiced their concern again. This time, though, Adner Marceline, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, joined them.
“It is very concerning when you don’t have the input of the community on what they want,” Marceline said. “Whenever the infrastructure is put in the community they are the ones who have to deal with the repercussions.”
At one point during the meeting, Deputy City Manager Cynthia Barber explained that a fact-finding team was formed in 2017 and started discussions for a new police station as part of a five-year strategic plan. The team agreed there is a need for a new police station.
The commission adopted the plan and authorized a number of steps to review the plans. Barber said stakeholders unanimously agreed the new headquarters should be on the Southside.
She also said negotiations for purchase of the proposed property are still ongoing.
About 20 people spoke during public comment; some before it came up on the agenda and others spoke just before the commissioners began discussing how to move forward on hiring an architectural firm.
Richardson, a longtime Southside resident, was vehement in his response to the opposition. Citing that he has been a victim of break-ins, Richardson said he wants the police station where it’s proposed if it serves as a crime deterrent.
“I have skin in the game,” Richardson said. “I’ve made that commitment. This is something we have discussed for years and we need it.”
Richardson also took time during lengthy discussions to debunk oppositions’ argument that the police station is being planned for the Southside because it’s a high crime area.
“I can put up with a lot, but I’m not putting up with misinformation,” Dailey said. “I’m not putting up with false accusation on the men and women of our police department, or sheriff department or any law enforcement.”
He added that hiring an architect is “the next logical step” in the process.
Two longtime Southside community advocates Talethia Edwards and Christic Henry also favored the police station in the planned location. Both said public safety and economic benefits were at stake.
“People are losing (property) value; they are losing their stuff and their children,” said Henry, a realtor and member of Capital Area Neighborhood Network. “They want that to stop.”
Several of those who opposed putting the police station just blocks from South City, an area with a high crime rate, said having the new station would be over-policing the area.
However, Edwards said a high police presence has reduced crime in her neighborhood.
“I live over here and I see no one wants to build houses here; no one wants to open businesses here,” said Edwards, a resident of the Bond Community. “We are talking about making things more equitable on in our city; making more opportunities on the Southside. I think this is an opportunity when we talk about the perception of safety.”
County Commissioner Bill Proctor, who spoke at the meeting, is among those who oppose building the police headquarters. Prior to showing up at City Hall, Proctor sent a letter to the commission, asking that it rescind its earlier decision on the project. He also suggested that the commission consider a complex that would also house the Sheriff’s offices along with space for Leon County School Board if the plan goes forward.
“TPD should not be an island isolated from collaborative county presence with the LCSD,” Proctor wrote. “Please try.”