Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Response from Jennifer Florida, 15th Ward Alderman Candidate

1.    What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? 

The key roles an Alderman serves are as representative, legislator, advocate, and chief problem solver.  The Alderman is responsible for the overall welfare and safety of the Ward he or she serves.  That person provides the leadership to effectively move his or her Ward /neighborhoods and the City forward.  As a representative, an Alderman is responsible for governance of the City budget, pensions, pay bills, Housing and Development, and City wide policies.

The key attributes for an Alderman:
1.    Very familiar and has experience working closely with the community, neighborhood leaders, business leaders, block captains, Police, Neighborhood Stabilization (the organizational structure of the ward).  These relationships assist in the identification of broader issues and facilitate the partnership required to address them.
2.    Clear about the legislative process and all tools, resources available in which to refine a problem into resolution.
3.    Familiar with City Departments and department heads to expedite resolution.
4.    Understanding of the City budget and process
5.    Understanding of Community Development Block Grants as a tool to rebuilding communities and City process.
6.    Highly adaptable and willingness to learn and persistence and patience.

2.    What education (schools attended, degrees attained), experience, and attributes do you have that qualify you for this position? 

Education, attributes, experience and qualifications:
•    Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Sciences, Illinois State University, 1983
•    Gamaliel Leadership Training
•    Advanced Gamaliel Leadership Training
•    Internship with Churches United for Community Action, now MCU, Metropolitan Congregations United-1998 (Grass roots organizing, issue, action, resolution)
•    Churches United to Community Concerns, now MCU, Metropolitan Congregation’s United, and Key Project Leader: Gravois Plaza Redevelopment, South Side National Bank Redevelopment and Southtowne-1998-2001
•    Served as a Block Captain
•    Alderwoman, 15th Ward 2001-present
•    Board of Alderman Committees:  Ways and Means-Vice Chair, Public Employees-Chairman
•    Legislation and HUDZ (Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee)

      I have now many years of experience in City government.  I have worked to improve our neighborhood as a leader and as your representative.  I am committed to solving problems and collaboratively coming up with solutions.  I am a “people” person and enjoy working with our neighborhood leaders and City Leaders/employees.  I am disciplined and reliable, accessible and responsive.

3.    Why do you think you are the best person for this position?  What differentiates you from your opponent?

I have 12 years experience serving as 15th Ward Alderman. I have the experience, the knowledge, and the relationships to be an effective advocate, representative and legislator.  I have been attending neighborhood meetings for 17 years.  I am very familiar with the neighborhood organizations, neighborhood leaders and business leaders in our community and surrounding community.  My neighborhood experience and on the job experience and seniority at the Board of Aldermen differentiates me from my opponent.  I also have a track record of accomplishments.  I sponsored the legislation that created the South Grand Improvement District, Co-sponsored the Nuisance Ordinance, funded and played a key role in the development of Management Assistance as a part of our Problem Property Initiative, Primary Sponsor in expanding City Wide Recycling, facilitated the development of Gravois Plaza, South Side National Bank, Green Alley initiative, South Grand Great Street Scapes, assisted new businesses  such as Civil Life Brewery, EZ Storage, Local Harvest , Hartford Coffee Co, many more, supported many home business offices, allocated funds for 15th Ward Home Repair Program assisting 15th Ward low and moderate income owner for necessary repairs,  facilitated new construction Grand South Senior Housing, facilitated  residential development such as 3460 Oak Hill, 3851 N. Utah, assisted many private developer residential projects such as  3904 Utah.  I have played a key role in working on neighborhood safety through Citizens on Patrol, 3rd District Sub Station.

4.    Please describe your previous involvement in the ward / neighborhood.

I joined the Tower Grove Heights Neighborhood Association many years ago.  I served as a Block Captain.  I worked on strengthening the Block Captain’s Association by networking with the other Block Captains in Tower Grove.  I met other neighborhood leaders in that endeavor.  I regularly attended the SLMPD 3rd District Neighborhood meetings.  I was involved with Churches Committed to Community Concerns, now MCU (Metropolitan Congregations United).  I served as a project leader on several community grassroots projects that were refined into issues:  Gravois Plaza, South Side National Bank and South Town.

5.    What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

Pressing Issues:
Facilitating investment in the transitional areas of our Ward in the way of housing and economic development.
I will continue to seek out developers in partnership with Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation and Community Development Agency to work in targeted areas based on census tract data utilizing tax abatement and gap financing as an incentive. 
Three rehabs are occurring through this process:  3500 McKean, 3433 McKean and 3755 Potomac, long time vacant buildings.
I will continue to assist small businesses with the tools that are available and continue to engage South Grand Community Improvement District, Tower Grove South Concerned Citizens and Tower Grove Business

Engaging residents in neighborhood safety
I will continue to be responsive and attentive to resolving concerns and issues.
I will attend Neighborhood Safety Meetings, promote Citizens on Patrol, and Support 3rd District Police Sub Station.
I will attend Neighborhood Association meetings, Block unit Meetings, engage Tower Grove South Concerned Citizens and participate in the15th ward Annual Town Hall Forum.
I will continue to work closely with Neighborhood Stabilization, our 3rd District Problem Property Officers, and residents to abate nuisance properties.

6.    Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

I work with many people:  neighborhood leaders, elected officials, business leaders, City Department heads, SLMPD. I work with others based on mutual self-interest.  In community, it is easy to find the common ground, such as safety.  I try to inform and engage on issues.  I try to stay positive and open.  Most issues require a collaborative approach to resolution.
7.    Recently the St. Louis City voters approved reducing the number of Aldermen; how do you feel about this change?  Are there other city government changes you would like to see?

I co-sponsored the legislation that put on the past November ballot to reduce the Board of Aldermen.  I supported the initiative.  The City had lost more than 500,000 people since the 1950’s.  Reducing the Board provides the opportunity for a more cohesive Board and efficiencies and consistent strategies in improving neighborhood quality of life.  I will continue to work toward modernizing our City government, improving efficiency, transparency and accountability.

8.    What steps would you recommend taking to balance the City’s pension obligations and overall budget?

In order for the City to balance its overall budget, it was necessary to reform the Firefighter Pension Plan.  FRS incurred actuarial investment losses of more than 256 million during the 11 year period from 2001-2011, resulting in an unfunded liability of 117 million dollars.  The City’s annual payment to FRS over that time period increased 529%, $3,365,007 to 21,176,763(not including service of debt).  The cost of funding FRS totals more than 56% of the total Firefighter payroll, compared to 10.3% in 2001.  Other City employee pensions are approximately 14.3% of payroll to fund. FRS has a very high rate of and costly disability.  The dramatic increases of FRS have created a severe budgetary hardship on the City, which lacks the financial resources to sustain the level of funding without drastically reducing other essential services.  A Pension Task Force studied this issue for many years, including Local 73, representatives from the pension systems, Union organizations.

I co-sponsored CS 109, FRS Pension Reform, creating a local dual plan pension structure.  Vested firefighters have their full benefits.  The fully disabled firefighter in the line of duty’s benefits is kept whole, including COLA.  The new structure provides a real value savings of 51 million dollars, 2.9 million dollars savings this year.  The Firefighters still have excellent retirement benefits. The reform will have a positive impact on our budget and sustainability of their system, protecting the benefits of all of our employees going forward.

9.    Neighborhood safety has been a hot topic in the ward.  What have / will you do to address safety in the neighborhood?

Neighborhood safety is a priority for me and the City.  I will continue to play a key role in working with our partners :  Neighborhood Stabilization, 3rd District Police, Our 3rd District Problem Property Police Officers, Neighborhood Safety Chair, Citizens on Patrol, Neighborhood Associations, Tower Grove South Concerned Citizens, 3rd District Liaison  Officer,  Circuit Attorney’s Office, 22nd Circuit Court and nuisance process  to address crime issues in our neighborhood.  I will continue our efforts in our Smart Neighborhood Initiative and promote our Safety page at

10.    How do / will you use the Alderman position to effectively impact city services for the ward?

I use the position as Alderman to positively impact city services. I have great relationships with all City Department heads.  I have access to them.  If there are specific issues, I am able to make an Aldermanic request and expedite resolution.

11.    What role should the Alderman have in working with the neighborhood business districts?  What have / would you do to increase economic development in the ward?

I work closely with the neighborhood business districts.  I act as a resource and sometimes advisor, legislator. I am a nonvoting member of their Board. I work closely with our 15th Ward Commercial District Manager assisting small businesses in façade improvements, zoning and variance. Many projects require legislation in zoning and redevelopment such as the St. Pius V School redevelopment project introduced last week (Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Center).

The S Grand Great Street Scape Project was one that addressed safety issues but its primary intent was place making to stimulate economic growth.  As a result, South Grand has experienced an economic increase of 7%.  The buildings in the District have redevelopment plans and possible tenants. I hope to translate the South Grand experience to the other districts. I plan to work with Alderman Vollmer, SLDC and our Commercial District Manager and the Tower Grove Business Association to develop a Street Scape plan to enhance that District.  I am working with Gravois Plaza and Southtown to improve their signage to enhance activity. I will continue to support and advance our economic development by supporting small business and doing my part in the process.  Small businesses such as Bikram Yoga, Civil Life Brewery, Local Harvest breathe new life, energy, jobs into our neighborhood.

12.    What role should the Alderman have in working with resident organizations?  What have / would you do to increase residential development in the ward?

As your Alderman, I work closely with private developers and Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation to generate and facilitate residential development in our Ward.  I look at the role as one as a partner and problem solver.  Typically we are taking on the challenge of a long time vacant building and its rehabilitation.

13.    How do / would you balance the needs of the residential and business districts of the ward so both are strong and vibrant?

It is important to balance the needs of the residential neighborhood and the business district.  Both need to be strong and vibrant.  The key is communication and the realization of their symbiotic relationship.  They are both stakeholders in our community.  I try to be as attentive as possible to the needs of our residents and our business community.

14.    If you could ask your opponent one question, what would it be?

A good leader is involved and works closely with the community, typically leadership is developed from the rank and file, why did you choose to get involved at the leadership level versus starting at the ground level?

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