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Leon County party chairs debate at Tiger Bay

Two men in suits, facing the camera and smiling
Margie Menzel
L-R: Leon County's Republican Party Chair Evan Power and Democratic Party Chair Ryan Ray

The chairs of the Leon County Republican and Democratic parties debated Thursday before the members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club. They even agreed in spots.

Evan Power chairs the Leon County Republican Executive Committee and is the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida. Ryan Ray chairs the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee and is the aide to Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow. POLITICO-Florida reporter Gary Fineout moderated their debate.

As the city faces a charter review, a key question is whether the commissioners should be elected citywide, as they are now, or by their districts. Power is advocating for the latter.

“You get better politicians when politicians are reactive to their electorate,” he said. “And they do that when they go neighborhood to neighborhood and knock on doors and get to know their constituents. And you can’t do that when you represent a larger seat than a state house seat and that hundreds of thousands of dollars are required to be able to run for that office. So, you’re not getting a person who might be a great politician; you’re creating a barrier to entry.”

Ray is advocating to keep the commissioners’ seats accountable to the citywide electorate.

“We don’t need to re-segregate our community and take ourselves away from each other, divide neighborhood from neighborhood with districts,” he said. “And I think the burden of proof is on somebody who wants to make this pretty radical, significant change. I just don’t think there’s any good reason to do it. It’s going to be expensive, we’re going to have to hire consultants to draw these maps, we’re going to have divisive conversations with incumbent politicians haggling over their own lines. It’s just a mess, and I just don’t think it’s necessary.”

But there’s one issue on which the two agree completely: The city’s upcoming property tax increase. Mayor John Dailey, Mayor Pro Tem Dianne Williams-Cox and City Commissioner Curtis Richardson form the majority vote behind the increase. They say the reason is public safety – to hire more police officers and improve law enforcement technology. But Power doesn’t buy it.

“If you’re interested in saving money, you can go to any agency and ask to cut some money from any agency,” he said. “There are savings there, one- or two-percent savings in every agency. Their proposed budget has no cuts – zero cuts – in any place. So, you can’t even say there’s an unfilled position you should pull back. So, it’s wrong to use law enforcement as a reason to do that; it’s not an honest conversation. And we should have a much broader conversation about why we need additional revenue.”

Ray is also opposed to raising the property tax.

“I think it’s going to raise housing costs,” he said. “I think that people all across the community are rightfully dubious about whether it’ll be administered responsibly. This is something that Evan and I agree on very strongly. I’m against it. And I think y’all who might see me as not aligned with your views should realize that Commissioner Jack Porter and Commissioner Jeremy Matlow are the two city commissioners that are holding the line and voting ‘No’ on this reckless tax increase.”

City commissioners will discuss next steps and a timeline for the charter review at their September 13th meeting. They’ll also hold the first of two public hearings on the city’s budget plan for Fiscal Year 2024.

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.