Residents Join City Officials to Discuss Southside Issues
By Kathryn N. Jones
About 200 Tallahassee residents joined city officials to fill the fellowship hall of Bethel A.M.E Church on March 31 to discuss issues affecting Southside.
Walking into the fellowship hall, residents were given a table number in which they were to sit. Tables were marked with the different topics ranging from public safety, jobs/education, health, neighborhood and housing.
Seated at each table along with residents were officials who could address their concerns. Each took turns to talk about a problem they believed the community was facing then residents and city representatives talked about possible resolutions.
“It was nice to actually feel like I have a voice in my community,” said Kimberly Thompson, a four-year Frenchtown homeowner. “There is so much going on in the community that needs to be addressed. I just hope this makes a difference.”
Followed by a ring of a bell, the topic and officials changed tables in order to give each table a chance to discuss various issues.
The meeting began with opening remarks by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum followed by an overview of Tallahassee- Southside analysis by the Director of Economic & Community Development Michael Parker.
Gillum suggested last year that Tallahassee apply for a grant under President Barack Obama’s Promise Zone Initiative. That initiative was launched to help local communities and businesses create jobs, increase economic security, improve public safety and expand educational opportunities. If the grant is approved, it would be used to improve some of what. has been called the ‘terrible’ zones of Tallahassee. Parker gave residents an overview of where Tallahassee stands in the competitive process.
“This designation can potentially come with huge resources to start to solve some of the problems we have around slow education, bad health statistics all moving in the wrong direction, affordable housing pricing, lack of affordable housing options, economic empowerment, and jobs in this area of our city,” said Gillum.
There are currently 97 cities that have applied to be named a promise zone but the government will only choose six of those cities to receive the grant. At least one of those grants would go to a city with less than 500,000 in population, which applies to Tallahassee.
After the overview the residents turned to their table and the topic of discussions. Residents were urged to discuss problems and possible solutions associated.
“It would be ill-advised for the government to just say here is a plan and this is what we’re going to do and put that on the community,” said Gillum. “It’s much more valuable for us to have a conversation with each other, the community, the elected officials, the policy makers and decide on a corrective plan that we can all rally around and move forward with together.”
Usually, city officials say meetings for such topics would be discussed with a panel of officials and only a couple of residents who would get to voice their opinions on the topics. Tallahassee representatives chose to take a different approach this time. Officials wanted to make sure each resident’s voice was heard about different issues.
“I’m really excited about this event tonight,” said Anita Favors Thompson, city manager of Tallahassee. “It’s one of the first of its kind in terms of bringing city hall to the community and actually listening to what people have to say about an issue.”
Originally, the March 31 event was to be co-hosted between the City of Tallahassee, Leon County and The Village Square. On the morning of the event, Leon County officials released a statement saying, “Due to scheduling conflicts and in deference to concerns addressed by the District County Commissioner, Leon County will not be participating in the evening’s joint city/county Southside meeting.”
The news advisory went on to say that Leon County will reschedule a future meeting about community issues that affect the Southside.
Even if the grant isn’t approved, Gillum said he plans to continue the efforts to make Tallahassee a better city for all.