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Jeremy Matlow: Should Top Government Officials be Interviewed in Bars?

"I believe the entire decision-making process should happen in public view," City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow says of Blueprint's mysterious Intergovernmental Management Committee, in an email to supporters.

// April 11, 2022,

7:45 pm

Updated:April 12, 2022

OPINION

Jeremy Matlow, Seat 3, speaks at the February 2022 Blueprint meeting when Commissioners voted on the $27 million dollar Seminole Boosters deal. | Our Tallahassee

Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

In today’s political climate we see a whole lot more speaking and a lot less listening.

Have politics gotten so bad that not only have we stopped listening, but we are now silencing the voices of opposing opinions altogether? 

It threatens everything we know about democracy, building consensus, and working together to improve our communities, but that is exactly what played out at last week’s Blueprint meeting.

It started with a rather shocking revelation:

The head of Blueprint was hired after interviewing in a bar outside of public view. No other applicants were interviewed. No one denied alcohol was consumed and the interview was conducted by personal friends of the applicant. 

For years, we have encouraged reform of the infamously opaque Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, a group that has celebrated the fact that it is not bound by local government rules, policies or procedures. But really, the need for secrecy at Blueprint is far more troubling than what is seen from the surface.

I was shocked to read the suggestion during the FBI trial that if you paid Scott Maddox $10,000 a month for three years, he could deliver $3 million dollars in Blueprint funds.

Later we read Scott Maddox texted the now head of Blueprint, “Cut the deal…Blueprint is yours.” and through a series of texts the two confirmed they both believed that Scott Maddox was responsible for the Director receiving the position to oversee over one billion dollars in collected sales tax.

Former Mayor and City Commissioner Scott Maddox walks into federal courthouse to testify against developer JT Burnette, July 2021. | Our Tallahassee

The public is still in the dark on what “the deal” was.

Fast-forward to this year and we see a $27 million dollar subsidy for luxury stadium improvements appear and move through the Blueprint decision-making process at record speed– leaving the public asking, “how did we even get here?” That’s the question we set out to answer as we navigated the tangled-web of decision making authority at Blueprint. 

PLACE Director Ben Pingree, who oversees the 1% sales tax agency huddles with County Administrator Vince Long and City Manager Reese Goad | Our Tallahassee
Richard Herring, Pete Butzin, and Ben Wilcox, members of the Citizens for Ethics Reform coalition look on during the March City Ethics Board workshop | Our Tallahassee
County Commissioners Rick Minor and Kristin Dozier were both denied the right to speak at the recent Blueprint Meeting. | Our Tallahassee
'Say No to Doak' protestors outside the Mayor John Dailey's re-election Campaign Kickoff, September 2021 | Our Tallahassee

What did we learn?

Outside of the Scott Maddox text messages and references to conducting the interview in a bar, there is very little information of how the director was hired.

We also learned this wasn’t the first time important public business was conducted while alcohol was consumed, and in at least one occasion, it was paid for with taxpayer funds. 

As a business owner, this process was a huge red flag for me. Whether it is a $27 million stadium project or the hiring of a top position, I believe the entire decision-making process should happen in public view. This is why I made the case for increased transparency and to ask the Attorney General for an opinion on whether Blueprint committees should be subject to open government in the sunshine laws.

That is when things got weird. The majority of the board did not have an opportunity to speak and out of the blue, an hour and a half before the meeting was scheduled to end, a motion was made to adjourn the meeting and it passed on a 5-5 weighted vote.

Elected officials and our community were denied the opportunity for a public discussion on increased transparency. I’m not sure what sparked the rush to end the meeting. What were they afraid of? Is increasing public access to how public business is conducted worrisome?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do find this new strategy of silencing any opinion that doesn’t match with your own and an unwillingness to hear opposing views and work toward compromise a very troubling trend in local government and a threat to our democracy at-large.

(Editor’s Note: The below op-ed is from an email sent out by City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow’s campaign, sent out last week. We’ve added and edited links for context that were not included in Matlow’s original email. Bar photo by Socially Loved, Intergovernmental Management Committee photo by Our Tallahassee.

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One Response

  1. This is an excellent question about this hiring process and the person they chose…

    This question will move to the forefront and every candidate should be asked how they are going to correct this and to not let this happen again.

    Commissioner Matlow is a proven listener and I believe he will prevail.

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