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Leon County District Five hopefuls talk crime and housing during candidate forum

A group of people sit behind a long table. Each has a microphone pointed at them and a bottle of water in front of them.
Lydell Rawls
WFSU Public Media
Candidates vying for the seat currently held by Leon County Commissioner Kristen Dozier.

Four candidates are vying for the Leon County commission seat Kristin Dozier is leaving to run for mayor after three terms.

The candidates for the District 5 seat are Paula DeBoles-Johnson, David O’Keefe, Jay Revell and Dustin Ryan Rivest. During a candidate forum Tuesday they agreed on the need for more affordable housing, greater transparency for public dollars, and increased support for crime-fighting and local businesses.

William Hatfield of the Tallahassee Democrat was one of the forum hosts. He noted 12 people have been killed and 46 have been injured in 71 serious shootings this year in the capital city and county. He asked the candidates, what they would do to make the community safer?

Jay Revell said crimes are often acts of desperation.

“Our duty as a local government, as a community as a whole is to try to give people as many paths and hopeful opportunities in their lives as possible," Revell said. "I’m on the board of directors for Goodwill Industries of the Big Bend, and I’ve seen the power of giving people a hand up, giving them a career path, giving them purpose, and helping to build community in places where it’s hard sometimes to do so.”  

David O’Keefe said Leon County is fortunate Sheriff Walt McNeil’s office and its community partners have developed the research-based Anatomy of a Homicide report, which includes suggested remedies.

“And I really commend them for that: digging into the root causes and long-term solutions," Okeefe said. "And most of those solutions we talk about are evidence-based, with proven results, to intervene and provide supportive services to children early in their life, before they end up on a path that often leads to crime.” 

The candidates also agreed on the dire need for affordable housing. Dustin Rivest said commissioners have to look at all the elements of affordable housing and ask, "What is the role of local government in this?”

“Looking at some of the resources that the county and the city owns currently, whether that be land and we look at developing that for affordable housing or looking at structures that are already built and how can we retrofit those structures that are owned by the county and the city," Rivest said.

Paula DeBoles Johnson said the county should make better use of its State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP money. That's money funneled through the state government's Sadowski housing trust fund to local governments to help create partnerships and incentives for building and maintaining affordable housing.

"We also need to ensure we’re expanding our SHIP funds. There’s an opportunity to do that with the county. We already utilize those dollars, we’re looking at the Sadowski Fund. Those SHIP dollars come from that fund," DeBoles Johnson said. "We can ensure that the people that need housing get that if we pay more attention to housing policy.” 

On the whole, the candidates complimented each other for points made and were subtle when they disagreed. None would make an endorsement in the mayoral or gubernatorial races. The forum was hosted by WFSU, The League of Women Voters of Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Democrat.

To watch the forum, go to wfsu.org.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.