City commission promises more focus on Southside

City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox took the lead on plans to bring change to the Southside.
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson joined the call to get more done for the Southside area.

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

   City manager Reese Goad was about to respond to Commission Jack Porter’s question about why a plan to improve the Southside had been neglected for two decades, when Commissioner Dianne Williams intervened.

She made it clear that she wanted her peers at the annual retreat held last Wednesday to get the correct response. Williams-Cox, a first-term commissioner who lives on the Southside, was blunt.

“It had a lot to do with who lives on the Southside,” said Williams-Cox, a longtime Southside advocate. “When you look at where poverty is concentrated, it is concentrated on the Southside and Frenchtown. Until you have some people to bring it to the forefront, by speaking out by bringing it to the commission meetings or getting elected, it was not the focus of some folks because the people who lived in the area may not have been look upon as favorably as others. 

“Shoot me if you want to, but in order to fix this we’ve got to expose it.”

That she did, even getting a little help from Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who also lives on the Southside.

Williams-Cox took on the responsibility of being the lead commissioner on plans to ramp up infrastructural improvements on the Southside. She also managed to get the board’s backing for a name change from the Southern Strategy Area to the Southside Action Plan, reflecting her intentions to be proactive.

Both Williams-Cox and Richardson said they’ve seen other areas improve while the 22.4 square mile just south of the Capitol is ignored. The two commissioners spoke specifically of development in Welaunee.

Richardson, who said he decided to run for the commission seat 1 to bring change to the Southside, was vehement in his response.

“We are not going to invest money, at least while I’m on the commission, we are not going to invest money in public infrastructure in the Welaunee area unless and until we improve infrastructure on the south side of Tallahassee,” he said.

The County Commission will host the next meeting on the plan in March before a public engagement meeting in April. However, the commission heard plenty about what the public wants during its annual retreat.

“I’m disappointed about what the Southside looks like,” said Darryl Williams, a 55-year-old military veteran who grew up on the Southside. “I ride my bike all over the Southside and I see the same thing that I had seen when I was 12-13 years old.”

There are some infrastructural changes in parts of the residential section of the Southside, though. In addition to the FAMU Way project, the city spent most of the latter part of last year installing sidewalks and drainage in the residential area between South Monroe and Country Club Drive.

However, a lot more than that has to be done to bringing change to the Southside, former commissioner Debbie Lightsey told the board. She suggested that the city review its land use permitting practices, hire code enforcement officers, and add more affordable housing in the area.

“Blythe and long-standing code violations are visible throughout the Southside,” Lightsey said. “This kind of change (her recommendation) requires day in and day out of hard work and it will not happen unless this commission directs their staff to treat it with deadly seriousness, including charging the city attorney’s office to take appropriate action and be aggressive.”

Commissioner Jeremy Matlow called for a review of the 20-years-old plan to determine what was accomplished and what wasn’t.

“I don’t want to get into a cycle where we are potentially setting goals that we are not hitting and then asking ourselves 20 years later why they didn’t,” Matlow said.

Williams-Cox assured the board that change will happen on the Southside.

 “I’m going to be like a dog with a bone about this one,” Williams-Cox said in a matter-of-fact response. “We’ve spent a lot of time on Welaunee and some other places. We are going spend some time on this. It’s been a long time so we’re going to spend some time on this (and) we’re going to get some results.”

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