Tallahassee City Commission

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Note: Every day this week, we took a look at amendments on the Florida ballot.

In the final installment of our amendment series, we’ll look at a proposed ethics reform ballot initiative that has a bipartisan group at odds with Tallahassee city officials.

It all started with the United Republic—a Massachusetts nonprofit group. Josh Silver is the director of Represent.Us, a project of United Republic.

Thomas Clzauskas

Tallahassee utility officials say the city’s trees need what they call “enhanced trimming” to help fight outages caused by squirrels and falling tree limbs. Rob McGarrah is the general manager of the city electric utility.

“Obviously the greater distance the trees are from the lines the less probability they’re going to contact the lines or fall on the lines. The tree distance is also a function of how much animal challenge we have because the squirrels use the trees to get on the lines,” McGarrah says.

Don Shall

The Tallahassee City Commission has voted to increase electric rates for businesses. Officials say the cost to provide electricity to the city’s businesses is not covered by the utility payments businesses make. Some business owners asked the city to consider reducing operating expenses instead of a rate hike, but Commissioner Nancy Miller says the utility is already keeping costs as low as it can.

Tallahassee ethics officer Julie Meadows-Keefe is under increasing pressure to resign. Her attorney is demanding a public apology.

There’s a new ethics officer in town and her name is Julie Meadows-Keefe. The Tallahassee City Commission appointed Meadows-Keefe to the job Wednesday, but what she will do if voters adopt an ethics amendment in November, is unclear.

Meadows-Keefe says in her new job she’ll help to ensure citizens that ethics codes are being followed.

“I feel that this role is to help the city government and the public to know and understand their state and local ethics laws, their rules and their policies, so ethical violations can be avoided,” Meadows-Keefe says.

The Tallahassee City Commission will decide whether to sue for a parcel of land near Railroad Square and Whanish Way.

Eminent domain is a legal term, that basically means a government can purchase a private property for public use. The city has already purchased several properties to make room for the FAMU Way storm water system, which officials say will decrease flooding in the area.

LHatter / WFSU News

The question of where to build sidewalks is polarizing neighborhoods across the city of Tallahassee. In order to address concerns about where the paths will go officials have created rubric to identify which projects should be prioritized.

In 2010 the city made a list of priority sidewalk projects. But since then officials have decided it’s time to reevaluate. City Engineer Steve Shafer told the Tallahassee City Commission Wednesday his department is proposing a plan that would award project funding based on four criteria.

Tallahassee voters will get to decide whether to add an ethics code to the city’s charter in November. The city commission approved the charter amendments language Wednesday, less than a week after a judge ruled the language was okay.

Some members of the Tallahassee city commission, including Mayor Marks, have expressed concerns about the cost to taxpayers—especially a provision giving city refunds to political donors. The city had also challenged the ballot language, claiming it was misleading, but a circuit judge upheld the wording last week.

lawyers talking in court
Jessica Palombo / WFSU News

A Leon County judge says proposed changes to Tallahassee’s government-ethics rules can appear on the November ballot. But the amendment still faces a final hurdle before voters can consider it.

Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis disagreed with Tallahassee City Attorney Lew Shelley that the ballot title and summary are “misleading” and “inflammatory.” Shelley had argued use of the word “anti-corruption” appeals to emotions and implies there’s corruption to root out. 

Miller headshot
City of Tallahassee

Tallahassee City Commissioner Nancy Miller has been elected for a second term. Miller took about 69 percent of the vote in her race against third-time local candidate Steve Stewart.

While celebrating with supporters at Andrew’s Downtown restaurant Tuesday evening, Miller reflected on what she learned during her reelection campaign. She says critiques from opponent Steve Stewart made her realize she and the rest of the Commission haven’t done enough to publicize efforts including ethics reform undertaken this year.

LHatter / WFSU News

Lunch hour on a Thursday afternoon and traffic on Magnolia Drive, between South Meridian and Apalachee Parkway is light, but in the afternoons, it gets busy. Traffic is a problem for Indian Head Acres resident Doug Martin, who says a sidewalk on Magnolia has been an issue for 20 years.

“This is a narrow, busy road, and it’s almost impossible to walk beside it in several places without being in a ditch," Martin told the Tallahassee City Commission.

Here's the back end of Marpan's wood chipper.
Nick Evans

Marpan Recycling is on the southern edge of Tallahassee, and it’s a participant in a city energy efficiency program called PeakSmart. 

The facility handles construction, demolition, and what’s known as class three waste –the things in a house that won’t fit in a trash can.  This means Marpan gets a lot of wood, and to deal with it they have a pretty serious wood chipper. 

“It runs on twin 250 horsepower electric motors, so it’s a very high-speed, low-torque machine that gets after it,” says Marpan’s Operations Manager Bryce Hill.  “It’s bad to the bone.”

City of Tallahassee

The Tallahassee City Commission is preparing to spend millions of dollars on new sidewalks— at the same time the rest of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is shrinking. The sidewalk issue devolved into a heated debate among commissioners during Tuesday’s budget workshop.

Lafayette Park
Eric Readerwalker via Flickr

The city of Tallahassee is being sued for not repealing its gun ordinances. Second Amendment advocates are asking a judge to force the city to bring its gun restrictions in line with state law.

The Washington state-based Second Amendment Foundation and Florida Carry filed the suit in Leon County Circuit Court last month.

Lawyer for the groups Lesley McKinney says the action resulted from a February City Commission meeting at which Mayor John Marks and other commissioners chose to delay a vote on repealing local ordinances.

A looming $5 million budget shortfall means Tallahassee commissioners are looking to make cuts anywhere they can. Some commissioners suggest avoiding a certain group of people as a cost-saving measure.

“If you smoke cigarettes, it’s bad for you, it leads to cancer, it leads to lung cancer, [and] it leads to heart disease," said Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox. “It’s an elective choice that you have made. I don’t think that if you’ve made that choice you ought to be eligible for hire at the City of Tallahassee.”

Tallahassee City Manager Anita Favors Thompson is recommending an 854 million dollar budget for the coming year. As part of her budget projection, Tallahassee homeowners may see their property taxes go up.

Today City of Tallahassee homeowners pay $3.70 for every thousand dollars of their home’s taxable value. But if the city’s new budget is adopted, they could see that number increase. The city’s Budget Manager Heath Beach, explained how that translates into dollars and cents.

The Tallahassee Ethics Advisory Panel is preparing to deliver its recommendations to the City’s Commissioners. 

There was a motivating event in Tallahassee that prompted the creation of the panel, but it appears public corruption in Florida is common.

City of Tallahassee

Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum is looking to add another title to the list. Mayor.

Gillum was first voted into office in 2003, becoming the youngest city commissioner ever elected to the post while he was still a student at Florida A&M University.

He's filed to run for mayor in 2014.

Back in 2010, Gillum, a rising star in the Florida Democratic Party, had made a bid to lead the party but withdrew.

City of Tallahassee / Talgov.com

After 37 years working with the city of Tallahassee, City Attorney Jim English is retiring. Mayor John Marks thanked English for his service at Wednesday’s commission meeting, which was English's last on the job.

English started representing the city in the mid-1970s for his private practice. He was officially appointed city attorney about 30 years ago and has been serving at City Hall ever since.

During Wednesday’s meeting, former Tallahassee mayor and returning commissioner Scott Maddox said, English is the best city attorney in Florida.

Jessica Palombo / WFSU-FM

The Tallahassee City Commission is ready for another term after swearing in two commissioners and saying goodbye to another on Monday evening. The new commission is full of experienced public servants who have all governed before.

In front of a near-capacity crowd in the City Hall chambers, the swearing-in ceremony began with a farewell to Commissioner Mark Mustian. He’s stepping down after nearly 10 years in office. City Manager Anita Favors Thompson said, Mustian has been an outstanding leader.

The Florida Commission on Ethics prosecuting advocate is saying that Tallahassee Mayor John Marks did violate ethics laws for taking part in several votes at City Commission meetings. Her recommended penalties include public reprimanding and monetary fines.

Diane Guillemette, a senior assistant attorney general who acts as a prosecutor for the state ethics commission, says Marks should have excused himself from voting on city matters that financially benefited companies that had retained him as an attorney. The City Commission votes happened from 2007 to 2010.

The City of Tallahassee is speeding up the process for granting home-building permits. City officials announced their plans Thursday for a faster permitting process while highlighting new homes being built in the Southwood neighborhood.

Starting on Monday, the city will aim to approve all residential building-permit applications within seven days instead of the previous 12. Shane Lambert, of the Tallahassee Builders Association, applauded the change.

City of Tallahassee Web Site / talgov.com

The proposed closure of a city-run arts-and-crafts center brought several Tallahassee residents to protest at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting. Commissioners are weighing whether to shutter the Lafayette Park center as they decide how to cover a budget shortfall of almost $1 million.

The Lafayette Park Arts and Crafts Center, which has been operating for more than 50 years, offers art classes to adults and children. Former student Molly Londot said she wants other kids to be able to experience what she did.

Tallahassee Releases 'A Report to Our Citizens'

Jun 18, 2012

The City of Tallahassee has released what it calls “A Report to Our Citizens,” a document outlining the city’s functions, budget and goals at the half-way point of 2012.

As the nation’s economy continues its slow recovery, the city of Tallahassee is trying to find ways to balance its budget without raising property taxes. The report shows the property tax millage rate has not risen since 2004.

City Auditor Sam McCall says some savings could come from proposed changes to city staff. 

Miller driving electric vehicle
Jessica Palombo / WFSU-FM

The city of Tallahassee announced the “Get There Green” program  on Thursday. The program starts with three parts, all aimed at encouraging eco-friendly transportation use among city employees.

First, the city has purchased an electric vehicle—it looks like a golfcart—that employees can use to shuttle between City Hall and other government buildings downtown.

In front of City Hall on Thursday, City Commissioner Nancy Miller drove the two-person, door-less vehicle. “I have a convertible, so it doesn’t bother me a bit," she said.  "And it’s very comfortable.”

City Approves Utility Credit Programs for Businesses

Jun 13, 2012

Tallahassee businesses can now receive utility credits for participating in two new hi-tech programs aimed at harnessing excess electrical power. The Tallahassee City Commission approved the plans on Wednesday.

The plans give credits to businesses for allowing the city to remotely control their energy use—say, raising or lowering thermostat temperatures— and to run their generators during off-peak times. Reese Goad, of Utility Business and Customer services, said customers and the city should benefit from the plans.