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Maddox and Johnson clash over ethics, qualifications for Leon County Commission

Two men in suits stare at each other while sitting at a table with microphones in front of them and logos for WFSU Public Media, PBS and NPR behind them
Lydell Rawls
(L-R) Josh Johnson, a schoolteacher running for the Leon County Commission, and incumbent Commissioner Nick Maddox, who is running for a fourth term, lock eyes at a candidate forum Monday

The run-off between Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox and his challenger, Josh Johnson, is picking up speed with Election Day less than a month away. The two often disagreed in a candidate forum Monday, hosted by WFSU, The League of Women Voters and the Tallahassee Democrat.

In the race for an at-large county commission seat, Maddox is seeking his fourth term, challenged by schoolteacher Johnson. Maddox says voters want leaders like him, with experience in the county’s issues.

“...Everything from helping out public housing redevelop to bringing Amazon in and also economic development there, and crime issues as well,” Maddox said. “I think what we need is experience that knows how to work collaboratively with the organization as well as the community in moving us forward.”

But Johnson says voters are looking for new leaders to address the housing crisis, crime and poverty.

“I think that people are tired,” he said. “And what I hear, knocking door after door after door, is that it’s time for new leadership. And I think I have proven to be that new leadership, I think that this campaign has been people-driven, and it will continue to be people-focused.”

The candidates discussed gun violence, affordable housing, the Amazon fulfillment center -- and of course, the $27 million that the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency gave Florida State University for repairs to Doak Campbell Stadium. Blueprint is a joint city-county agency for taxpayer-funded infrastructure. The forum moderators asked what the candidates would have done differently. Johnson had opposed the move.

“I think that people spoke loud and people spoke clear, and their local government and their local governance did not hear them,” said Johnson. “And my opponent was at the helm of that decision-making process as the chair of the Blueprint Intergovernmental Board. I think we should have handled it differently, I really do. I think the $27 million is the most divisive issue in the last 10 years in local politics.”  

Maddox voted in favor of the allocation.

“What I would have liked to have seen differently is just that our community have a more productive and consensive, a collegial conversation around it,” said Maddox. “The way that some of the conversations happened around that was just not indicative of the type of community that we are. I know we can get passionate about issues, but what I would have liked to have seen is us being able to come to the table understanding that we’re all trying to build the best Leon County we possibly can.”

The moderators noted that Johnson had sent an email blast to supporters saying Maddox was mired in “personal and political scandals.” He linked to a Tallahassee Democrat story about Maddox’s abrupt departure as executive director of the Boys and Girls Club amid a sexual harassment complaint. What, Maddox was asked, would he like voters to know about that characterization?

“What I want the public to know about that is that the characterization of it is misrepresented,” Maddox said. “I left the Boys and Girls Club because I wanted to move on as a professional and focus on my campaign as well. Also what I want the voters to know is that I absolutely have been focused on moving this campaign forward, moving this community forward as a county commissioner, and been very effective in doing so.”

The moderators then asked Johnson to respond to the depiction of him as part of a slate of progressives led by Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, who has endorsed Johnson. In a recent column, Maddox wrote that he was, “gravely concerned by the tone, tactics and motivations of white liberal Democrats like Matlow.” The moderators asked Johnson to respond.

“The only person that seems to be slated is a person that has stacked donations from developers,” Johnson said. “I don’t have those things. If I had some hand behind the wheel controlling me, I think that we would see it in my finances. My finances have come about honestly -- and that is more than I can say for some people.”

Maddox answered that he would make decisions based on what’s best for the community.

One thing the two agreed on: Neither would say which candidate he supports for Tallahassee mayor.

Shortly before the forum, Johnson held a press conference to announce the endorsements of 14 women, including City Commissioner Jack Porter, former Tallahassee mayor Debbie Lightsey and other community leaders.

To see this and all the other candidate forums, 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.