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Lightsey: City/County Comp Plan Rewrite has Become a Fiasco

Former Mayor Debbie Lightsey outlines the delays behind the eight-year project to rewrite the mobility element of the comprehensive plan.

// May 9, 2022,

9:06 pm

Updated:May 10, 2022

OPINION

Debbie Lightsey poses with Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier for a selfie.| March 2022, Our Tallahassee

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” is an adage attesting to the need for time to create great things. 

Nevertheless, it has been eight years since then-County Commissioner John Dailey suggested a rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan Land Use Element because there was too little development happening in his district (this likely was because a good deal of his district lies within a Lake Protection Zone or Closed Basins).

After eight long years, even the most patient Roman citizen would have to ask. “What is the hold-up?”

Fumble #1: In 2014 the Leon County commission approved the rewrite and directed staff to begin the joint city/county rewrite. Of course, no one mentioned a comp plan affecting city and county government drafted by just the county has no force of law. Months of public outrage forced the city commission to get involved in 2015.

Fumble #2: For the next four years planning staff muddled along with online opinion surveys, community workshops, and values testing. Asked by the public if they had done the necessary data collection and analysis on which to base the rewrite, staff acknowledged that weren’t equipped to do that.

Citizen pressure forced the two commissions to fund a full plan rewrite in 2020.  $300,000 was appropriated and requests for proposals were sent out to secure a professional consulting firm to accomplish the rewrite.
Staff would write the Scope of Services for the RFP, and city procurement was tasked with managing the selection process.

Year seven: The completed RFP was released last July resulting in several responses; a nine-member selection committee was appointed.

City Commissioner Jack Porter during a recent city county comp plan workshop.| March 2022, Our Tallahassee
Planning Director Artie White addresses city and county commissioners during a recent city/county comp plan workshop.| March 2022, Our Tallahassee
Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier speaks to city and county commissioners, while Mayor John Dailey looks on in the background.| March 2022, Our Tallahassee

Fumble #3: The selection committee did not meet until November and finally scored the two top-ranked firms in January. The company – we’ll call them Company A – which scored second filed a letter of complaint, however, staff did not require a protest bond or set up a Bid Protest Review Committee.

The procurement staff did decide the informal written complaint had merit, labeled it a bid protest, and scheduled another round of oral presentations for February.

Low and behold after re-scoring, Company A now was ranked as the top choice, and the recommendation should have been moved to the elected commissioners for action.

Fumble #4: Unbeknownst to the committee Company B now came in second — they wrote a letter of complaint — and the whole cockamamie, highly irregular staff review, and the process was used again.

Weeks went by when finally in mid-March a cryptic two-sentence email informed the Selection Committee that “City Leadership” has decided to Reject all Bids, re-release the RFP, disband the committee and form a new one.

No mention of Bid Protest, no mention of the finding of merit, nothing.

A few days later City and County Commissioners, who had invested serious time and energy getting to this point and who were unaware of these process irregularities, were finally told the selection could not be completed. They were informed the city attorney had halted this “messed up” process and directed it to be started over.

Many Questions; Few Answers:

Why are we in month eight of an RFP process which the Purchasing Manual says routinely takes 76 days? Why weren’t mandatory processes, steps, and timelines followed? Who was the “City Leadership” who intervened: administrative, legal or elected? Who outside City Procurement was providing oversight as this project went off the rails? Will the consulting firms who scored #1 and #2 reapply or give up? What new firm will apply under these circumstances? Can we get a legally defensible decision this time?

Git ‘er done: Citizens try to be active and participate in local government but get frustrated when they see binding processes ignored. Therefore, many citizens have come to believe the system is rigged and playing by the rules is a waste of time.

There is a long way to go on this comp plan rewrite. I implore leadership to pay attention so we get a quality Land Use and Mobility Plan with meaningful citizen review leading to a plan we can all support.

Eight is enough!

Debbie Lightsey was a Tallahassee city commissioner from 1989 to 2010 and has continued advocacy on a variety of issues as a citizen since her retirement.

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2 Responses

  1. The leadership under Mayor John Dailey is abysmal. He runs his re-election campaign 24/7 365 days a year and has no time for anything else.

    One only has to look at the Boulos development on Apalachee Parkway to get a glimpse of the horrendous leadership.

    Debbie Lightsey is a treasure and one can see one of her wonderful work accomplishments driving down Blair Stone Road from one end to the other. That is a beautiful end product, beautifully designed, maintained and a great asset to Tallahassee.

    The leadership under Mayor Dailey has failed Tallahassee.

  2. Thank you, Debbie Lightsey, for this information. We citizens, try as we might, can rarely pierce the veil of ;pca; government and paid consultants’ propaganda and backroom decisions that have made this community, especially County Commission District 3, so vulnerable to crony developers who do not care about the habitat destruction or established working class neighborhoods they destroy in their quest for profits. And we citizens are supposed to believe that development benefits us because the taxes these businesses and buildings generate go to our local city, county and school board governments who in turn use those taxes wisely to improve our quality of life, generate jobs and produce other such trickle down benefits which have proven to be myths. We need new leadership and more principled and committed local government employees who stand up to their bosses. Unfortunately, we have no whistle-blower ethics law in Leon County because our elected officials do not want it.

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