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Tallahassee mayor and run-off opponent clash over meetings in his home to prevent gun violence

Man in suit and bow tie stands at podium with arm raised
Tom Flanigan
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey

The Tallahassee City Commission meeting Wednesday was filled with activists against gun violence. They want the city to adopt a form of deterrence called Group Violence Intervention, or GVI. But last month Mayor John Dailey held two meetings at his home, inviting a select group to discuss how to distribute the $1 million the city has set aside to reduce gun violence in the upcoming budget year. It’s not GVI they’re considering.

The money at issue was the first million of $5 million the city plans to spend on gun violence over the next five years.

Among those invited to Dailey’s home were his chief of staff, Courtney Thomas; Leon County Assistant Sheriff Argatha Gilmore; Royle King, executive director of the Council on the Status of Men and Boys; Cecka Rose Green, executive director of the Children’s Services Council; and a number of people representing other nonprofits. Also on hand were two candidates who recently lost their primary challenges: Dailey’s former opponent in the mayoral race, Whitfield Leland III; and Rudy Ferguson, who lost to Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox.

Word spread about the meetings, and some people objected that the discussions weren’t more public. Dailey says he was doing his job by meeting with constituents.

“And so it’s important as the mayor to listen to people,” he said. “And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing is listening to the community about how we move forward. Look, we have got major issues that we have to deal with -- specifically, gun violence.”

County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, who is in a runoff with Dailey for the mayor’s job, says she got calls after both meetings from people who had heard about them. They were concerned, she says, “about whether we were going to have a public conversation.”

“I think the concerns I was hearing -- and I share them -- were about kind of hand-picking,” Dozier said. “Did the mayor hand-pick certain groups to be there, and then those groups, you know, made their way into the agenda recommendations?

Asked what he would propose at Wednesday's commission meeting, Dailey said he didn’t have a plan.

“Well, I don’t have anything in particular to propose. I have items that I’m looking forward to having a great conversation about,” he said. “Specifically, Marjorie, how do we work with our community partners and specifically other governments, okay, the school district on working with kids that are in school but maybe having problems and might be going down the wrong path? How do we keep them in school and get them on the right path?”

Neighborhood activist Talethia Edwards was among those invited to Dailey’s home. She says the group discussed the three pillars of reducing gun violence: prevention, interruption and restoration. The plan was for $500,000 to go to direct service “navigators” working with the Council on the Status of Men and Boys; $300,000 for street teams for the city’s TEMPO program, which serves youth who are neither in school nor holding a job; and $200,000 for restorative justice -- the ‘restoration’ piece of their strategy.

“$500,000 was going to go to the Navigators Program run by Royle King with the Council on the Status of Men and Boys,” Edwards said. “Another portion of the money was going to go to violence interrupters of some sort. I’m not sure how they’re going to be structured in connection with TEMPO. And another $100,000 to non-violent communication.”  

Dozier says the recommendations could well be good ones, but that wasn’t the point.

“I’m glad to see the Commission on the Status of Men and Boys, for example, receiving funding,” she said. “But this is really about the process. And whether this was a campaign or not, I would have these same concerns. But it definitely changed everyone’s perspective on this because we are in a campaign.”  

Edwards lives in Bond Community, a Tallahassee neighborhood besieged by gun violence. She’s also the mother of teenage sons and hopes the city’s money could change the equation for them.

“So I am definitely sure that my neighborhood will feel the impact of this money even though the money isn’t directly being invested in our specific neighborhood," said Edwards.

But City Commissioner Jack Porter, who has often clashed with Dailey, says the meetings at his home don’t build trust with the people of Tallahassee.

“Elected officials coming into meetings with preconceived notions about what is going to happen is a bad way to serve the public,” said Porter. “And it’s things like this that explain why people struggle so much to trust their government.”  

The city commission will finalize its budget, including its expenditures to prevent gun violence, on September 21st.

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.