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Open City Commission Seat 1 Generating Buzz, Previous Candidates Take Another Crack At It

Remaining members of the Tallahassee city commission will choose the person to replace Scott Maddox.

The list of people vying for City Commission Seat 1 continues to grow, and had hit about 30 by Wednesday. It includes political novices, previous Commission candidates and some who ran for other local offices.

Following the indictment of former Commission member Scott Maddox on federal extortion and bribery charges, the seat he left vacated is generating some buzz. Two of the candidates who lost commission races in the recent local election are taking another crack at it.

Bill Schack, food service director at the Kearney Center homeless shelter, ran for Commission Seat 3.

“I was in the race before anybody else this cycle, I was in April of 2017,” Schack said. “So I was on the campaign well over a year and a half.”

Schack says going through a campaign familiarized him with issues relevant to the commission. Now, he says he wants to use that knowledge to help his community. And, he got to know the commissioners who he has another chance to serve alongside.

“Three out of four commissioners that are there now – I ran right alongside them. They know exactly the way I feel about all those positions. They watched me debate and answer questions on different issues, and I watched them do the same thing,” Schack said. “And I believe when you’re on the campaign trail with a bunch of people the way we were – you really get a sense of who these people are, and they get a sense of who you are.”

Howard Kessler is a former Wakulla County Commissioner, who threw his hat into the ring for Commission Seat 5. Now he, like Schack, is hoping to win the commission’s favor.

“You have three new people, including the mayor, that offer the citizenry a change in direction of where the City was going, with respect to, especially the issue of ethics,” Kessler said.

Kessler’s campaign was centered largely on bringing ethical leadership to City Hall. He emphasized restoring public trust in government – and now sees an opportunity to continue that message.

“My impression is that there is this shift toward a more – a Commission that will pay more attention to how they function in the ethical realm,” Kessler said.

Though it’s not an election, those vying for the seat are still trying to get their message out. Schack says he has spoken with those who supported him during his campaign, asking them to write emails of support on his behalf to the Commission. He has also promoted his renewed push for the seat on social media.

There’s another person in the running, though, who feels he has a stronger claim to the seat than the others. Bruce Strouble is Coordinator of Florida A&M University’s Sustainability Institute. He ran against Maddox and lost during the 2016 election cycle. He quotes from a section of the City Charter he feels makes him the logical successor to the seat:

“No candidate for the office of the mayor, or city commission, nor any candidate seeking nomination in any primary election for such office, shall promise any money, office, employment, or any other thing of value to secure the nomination or election.”

Strouble says he has talked with attorneys who agree his case has legitimacy based on the charter’s language. Though, he hasn’t yet been in direct contact with the City’s attorney about the matter.

“When I lost, I chalked it up to, it was my first time campaigning and I was up against a more experienced politician who had a lot of resources. But then to come back years later and find out how he kind of built himself up through these unfair means – I felt that it wasn’t a fair process,” Strouble said. “And in looking at the charter, it would appear that if we followed the rules suggested in the charter, I would be awarded the seat.”

The City’s attorney recently told the Tallahassee Democrat the section of the Charter Strouble is referencing does not apply in this situation because Maddox was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott, creating the vacancy.

The Commission will announce its selection on December 31.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.