Margaret Moore (Photo: Your Turn)
Much ado has been made this past election cycle about the influence of big business interests in our local elections. Rightfully so: The influence of organized money in local politics has a significant impact on major decisions about the future of our community and quality of life for all of us.
Every resident of Tallahassee has a right to advocate for their interests, including business owners and major landowners. When a handful of wealthy insiders and the multiple entities they control create a political machine to financially support and run political advertisements for their chosen candidates, the voices of everyday people are inevitably drowned out. We are right to question if an entity that donates thousands of dollars through shell corporations and that has business before the City Commission may have interests beyond the public good.
As Property Appraiser Akin Akinyemi recently reminded readers, items like the proposed sale of public land near Myers Park in 2017, the location of the new police headquarters, the city’s purchase of Northwood Mall and the ongoing conversation within the business community about privatizing our airport all heavily involve local players that have cumulatively donated extraordinary sums to local candidates and sitting commissioners.
These same players have benefited handsomely from taxpayer largesse, and seek to steer public policy towards their further benefit.
Grow Tallahassee, a new group for developer interests, say they are simply exercising their democratic right to express their support for candidates dedicated to so-called “progressive growth.”
There’s nothing progressive about clear-cutting pristine wildlife habitats to make way for urban sprawl, building infrastructure for speculative developments that draw funding away from long-established neighborhoods, and pushing through controversial million-dollar projects without public comment over the objections of watchdog agencies.
We residents and our media have every right to express our concern and ask legitimate questions about such matters. It is vital that we inquire after and vigilantly guard the public interest. A robust conversation about the allotment of power in our local government is more necessary than ever.
The president of Grow Tallahassee is Justin Ghazvini, a family member of the same developer interests being criticized by the community. Its first meeting invited keynote speaker Drew Jones, who the Tallahassee Democrat reported for working for developers, Blueprint and local campaigns at the same time, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in benefit to his clients at the public expense. This is not an organic group of eager young people that support development, but an entity manufactured to push back on real concerns from people who want to protect our city’s residents and resources.
In a recent op-ed, Jared Willis wrote that Grow Tallahassee seeks to balance the “preservation of Tallahassee’s unique character.” The development history of the Ghazvini’s Canopy project tells a different story: receiving the highest fine in history from the Northwest Florida Water Management District for noncompliance and a failure to have an environmental permit; settling with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for $85K for violations that resulted in polluting our stormwater systems; and being cited by the city for removal of trees in our Canopy Road Protection Zone.
With such blatant violations, I’m not sure how Mr. Willis can say with a straight face their aim is to balance Tallahassee’s unique character and grow responsibly. The pay-to-play culture — where the rules don’t matter unless you have enough money to influence our local elections — has to end.
All told, real estate and developer interests have bundled far more than any other sector. Rarely have local candidates owed so much to so few.
We are told to trust, but our city commission has lost my trust. Our neighbors are suffering during the worst crises we’ll likely ever know, and our city continues to put special interests above the public ones they are elected to represent.
It’s becoming clear that when it comes to the influence of special interests allied to the Chamber of Commerce and big developers, Tallahassee deserves better.
Margaret Moore is a mom to three, a career social worker and a resident of Tallahassee for over two decades.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Send letters to the editor (up to 200 words) or Your Turn columns (about 500 words) to [email protected] Please include your address for verification purposes only, and if you send a Your Turn, also include a photo and 1-2 line bio of yourself. You can also submit anonymous Zing!s at Tallahassee.com/Zing.
Submissions are published on a space-available basis. All submissions may be edited for content, clarity and length, and may also be published by any part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.
Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Read or Share this story: https://www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/2020/08/27/developer-money-has-influenced-local-elections-too-long-opinion/5633817002/