It’s been almost a year since the Tallahassee Commission got three new members, bringing a new era at City Hall. WFSU recently went to Commissioner Jeremy Matlow’s open office hours to get his thoughts on the first year with the group.
“Trial by fire, kind of – there’s no training manual for how to be a commissioner. So we kind of had to come in and figure it out – find out what issues were important to us. I think we adapted well,” Matlow said from his City Hall office.
Matlow has lived in in the capital city since he was 3 years old, making him a de facto Tallahassee native. A local businessman, he has seen life change since he jumped into the commission race – including the birth of a new child two months before the election and taking a less day-to-day role in his pizza restaurants.
“I’m fortunate to have a strong business partner and general manager who can do the day-to-day operations over there, so I kind of have more of an oversight role,” Matlow explained.
Now, with his full focus on the Commission, Matlow and the other new members – Mayor John Dailey and Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Elaine Bryant, are forging an identity all their own.
“Everything we do is in the sunshine, so the only time we can really communicate is in an official meeting,” Matlow said. “So, there’s not really a sense of – we don’t have those kind of more intimate conversations like – ‘how are you figuring things out?’ we have to do it all in the public eye.”
For Matlow, part of figuring things out was taking stock of where the prior commission left off.
“Our process was, we went back and watched the meetings where the previous commission talked about it, looked at previous agenda items - because it was important to us to know how we got to where we are,” Matlow said.
Matlow says the current commission has found itself at odds more than once, with the direction its predecessors were going.
“Two that I can think of were the Midtown parking garage proposal – it had been talked about for a few years. And then, the location of the police station in Town South (Shopping Center), on South Monroe. Both of those issues, I think we came in with different perspectives – and it’s a tight rope to walk – we want to say we respect all the work that’s gone into this, but we want to do things differently, take it a different way,” Matlow said.
Having a deeper understanding of the issues important to Tallahasseans takes time, Matlow has found, time beyond regularly scheduled public meetings:
“So you take our base schedule, and that’s City Commission meetings, Blueprint meetings, I’ve also got appointed to the Downtown Improvement Authority, and the CRTPA … and the CRA – five sets of board meetings that we got to. So, each meeting you see on the schedule, a week before that we get an agenda. And that can range from anything from a few stack to an entire binder with 600 pages of background on the issues.”
When it all adds up, that can be time consuming
“At least a day, sometimes two days, just to go through the material and get an understanding about it,” Matlow said.
Matlow says the time put in to listening to the public is one thing that sets this commission apart.
“(It’s) the will of this board to really want to engage the public more, and bring them in more. So, as that starts to trickle down, we’ll see less of massive projects that really didn’t engage the neighborhoods, and didn’t have their input from the beginning.”
With the guilty plea of former commissioner Scott Maddox on federal corruption charges still looming large in the minds of many, Matlow feels he and the current commissioners are doing what they can to change perception.
“I think we’re starting to kind of change the perception of what City Hall and city government is about, and start having people trust the government again – and that’s where we want to get.”