By Greg Jackson, Esq.
Very few folks know this, but many moons ago, while in graduate school, I competed as a super-heavyweight in Tae Kwon Do tournaments. My last competition was actually in Central Florida where I won a gold medal for my division and also suffered what I later learned was a "career" ending foot fracture in the first round of a three-round bout. After a tough second round, my coach told me quite frankly that I had to win the last round because at that moment the fight was tied and I was losing momentum. The one thing I appreciated about my coach was that he did not mince words. If you were up in a bout he would tell you and if you were losing he would tell you; no fluff with him at all. His honest assessments helped me to become a better student while training, which helped me to overcome adversity if I found myself behind in a match.
Similarly, as an avid boxing fan, I have seen some trainers who give their fighters true assessments of what is taking place in the ring during the fight so that necessary adjustments can be made to win. But, I have also seen some trainers, not wanting to get their fighters too excited or desperate, avoid telling their fighters to pick up the pace because they were falling behind. In the case of the former situation, most times the boxer wins a controversial decision or will lose (e.g., de la Hoya-Trinidad 1999 super fight).
Such is the case for the Apopka Community Redevelopment Agency ("CRA"), as well as other CRA's across the state. For over a decade CRA's have been facing increased scrutiny and the fight is heating up even more with the legislature, as well as in various courts of public opinion. At this point, the "trainer" for Florida CRA's is in the corner telling them that they are winning the fight and have nothing to worry about. When in fact, CRA's are taking unnecessary headshots and body-blows (i.e., scrutiny for not following the intent of the Community Redevelopment Act) as they lay back on the ropes in a defensive stance thinking they have this battle won.
The truth of the matter is this: CRA's were established by the legislature to address the unfortunate effects of "slum" and "blight" in certain underserved communities. For those that have forgotten or just do not know, “slum” and “blight” results in poor living conditions, a depressed economic base, increase in crime and substandard health conditions, both mental and physical. The primary strategy contemplated by the legislature was for municipalities to focus on addressing affordable housing shortages, as well as public safety and health concerns. While business development was and should be a consideration for CRA’s, it was not the primary focus, as some CRA’s have been led to believe. The CRA "trainer" has convinced its fighters that they are winning the fight by taking the easy route with a focus on business development and streetscape projects. However, the “judges” scoring the fight (i.e., the legislature, citizens, watchdog groups, etc.) believe that CRA's are throwing ineffective punches and not addressing the most pressing needs with the most effective strategy. The “judges” of the skirmish want to see CRA's fighting on the inside (i.e., addressing concerns with affordable housing, public safety, and health) and stand toe-to-toe with the tough community issues. This is particularly that case since a municipality's general funds, other special taxing districts or designated funds (i.e., downtown development, TDT, etc.) should be utilized to address the “business development” projects as a separate overlay.
The great thing about the situation CRA’s have found themselves in is that it is not too late to put a winning strategy together to get the “judges” on their side. Even if CRA’s opt to remain with their old trainer for the sake of comfort, like most next-level fighters, they can bring in a co- trainer or strength coach to help them focus their efforts on hitting harder to become more effective throughout the fight to address “slum” and “blighted” conditions in underserved communities. CRA’s were established to champion communities that have few other options or resources to facilitate life-changing opportunities for those who live within their boundaries. There is a lot more that can be accomplished by CRA’s if they focus on their intent of “redevelopment” and move away from their now perceived primary intent of financing business development – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a past Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, 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.
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