The VOICE of discourse
By Greg Jackson
Though I am strong-willed and known to zealously speak out for those things I believe to be right, when I am wrong, I have no problem saying I am wrong. As many of you know I have been very critical of the Apopka Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA); but wait, don’t pop any celebratory bottles of champagne just yet because I am not saying I was wrong about Apopka’s CRA. However, you may recall that to some extent as a part of my criticism of the Apopka CRA’s “spending” decisions, I have opined that the Florida Redevelopment Association (FRA) encouraged and supported the Apopka CRA’s ill-advised decision to ignore the true intent and purpose of Florida Statutes Chapter 163, Part III, by purchasing a parking lot instead of focusing on more important issues within the CRA district. Boy, was I wrong …about the FRA that is.
Recently, and by “recently” I mean just this past Thursday, I was a panelist at the 2017 FRA Conference in Daytona Beach. The specific topic I spoke on was “Engaging the Underserved Community.” To the FRA’s credit, they were fully aware of my criticism of many CRA’s throughout the State of Florida that use funds for business purposes while ignoring the affordable housing and various other issues related to “slum” within their respective CRA districts. When I went to check-in at the conference registration table to find the room where I was assigned to speak, I was a bit surprised that many FRA members and Board Members knew of my general role in working through the Florida Economic Consortium (FEC) to help educate CRA’s, as well as my specific criticism of Apopka’s CRA. I was also a little less than astonished that many of the folks I encountered while checking-in had actually read some of my previous pieces in The Apopka Voice and were appreciative of the willingness to speak on an issue that has been ignored for several years, if not decades. In short, despite my unapologetic perceived faults of the FRA, I was welcomed as a peer and resource by them. In fact, without divulging identities, within five minutes of me arriving no less than a half dozen FRA members and/or Board Members approached me and thanked me for coming to provide my insight. I was also encouraged to speak about Apopka’s CRA to help steer other CRA’s from following suit. Even more encouraging was that an FRA Board Member told me not to “water-down” my statements, to give it to people straight because it could help to make a difference across the state from various perspectives, one of which is to get the continued existence of CRA’s off the radar of Florida’s Legislature amid new calls to terminate CRA’s due to questionable funding decisions.
It was no secret that I have spoken out against the FRA and willingness to allow an opposing voice and viewpoint to the table brought something very important to my realization: the FRA is not the problem. What I have discovered is that for the most part the FRA encourages the CRA’s to be knowledgeable about their roles, functions and responsibilities to the communities they serve. When the CRA’s opt to do things that are subject to criticism, more times than not it is because those CRA’s are doing things that do not coincide with the FRA’s aim, which is for CRA’s to utilized funds to be impactful within underserved communities, not just increase revenues.
Is the FRA perfect? Not really because more can be done to educate CRA’s on how to better focus on “slum” or what I refer to as the social aspect of Chapter 163, Part III. This can be done by providing strategies to address affordable housing shortages, antiquated infrastructure, crime and declining health conditions within underserved communities that are also encompassed in a CRA district. Based on the feedback from the approximate 100 or so attendees of my session, I welcome the opportunity to serve as a continued resource for CRA’s across the State of Florida in order to secure their continued existence. To its credit, the FRA has shown that it understands the deficiencies in certain trainings to CRA’s and has shown a sincere willingness to listen and address those shortcomings head on for the betterment of CRA’s and the citizens they serve; which, is much more than can be said for the Apopka CRA — in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.