Guest Column — Donna Pearl Cotterell: 24 Years is Enough

When Leon County District 1 was created through landmark civil rights litigation, no one expected one man to represent it for seven consecutive terms.

Especially not one who doesn’t live here, and has become a vote for the big establishment special interests.

Longtime incumbent Bill Proctor has overseen a tripling of the poverty rate to triple in the 32304 ZIP code during his tenure. That’s not all his fault of course, but he could at least stop voting to make it worse, voting with FSU Boosters on the biggest vote in years — despite a huge popular opposition from every corner of Leon County.

At a forum on May 24, 2022, I watched an opponent say they admired Proctor as a child, and still looked up to him today. He never said why he was running against him. Before qualifying ended, I could not stand idly by for another four years of poor leadership in my community and not do anything about it while I had the chance. 

Donna Pearl Cotterell, Candidate for Leon County Commissioner, District 1

It’s time for real change and a new day in our local government.  District 1 deserves a Commissioner who lives here and speaks our values, not huge Blueprint giveaways that helped bring the FBI to town. We could have used our penny sales tax the way Pinellas County did where, per the Tampa Bay Times, “commissioners set aside a portion of the 1-cent sales tax (4.15%), estimated to bring in about $80 million, to pay for expanding the availability of affordable housing over the next 10 years.”  

We could have expanded real economic vitality by investing in small cottage industry businesses, allowing them to thrive. Instead the incumbent chose big-time special interests over everyday people and voted to give FSU an early Christmas present by voting for them to get $27 million for luxury upgrades. They can afford to pay for this themselves, and should have.

Meanwhile Proctor has complained about not getting $10,000 for a local Soul Santa event, while letting 2,000 times that amount — funds that could do a lot of good in District 1 — escape out the back door. Proctor’s values are out of touch. 

Defending his vote for the Doak giveaway, he cited the handful of “boys” that become millionaires post college. What about the girls and the rest of Leon County, who deserve to have our penny tax — the most regressive kind there is — benefit the whole community?

I have served on the Citizen’s Police Review Board, was Tri-Chair for the Florida Poor People’s Campaign, am an educator, writer, producer, director, actress, activist and proud resident of the Bond neighborhood. My family  lived in Leon County for five generations.

My father, Chief Morris Thomas, was the first police chief of Midway, Florida. He was also the third person to desegregate the buses in Tallahassee. I have a B.A. in Theatre Arts from UMass/Boston, a M.S. in Financial Economics from Boston University and a Master’s in Education with a concentration in Middle School Math from Lesley University.

I am uniquely qualified to be the next commissioner representing my district. The incumbent clearly has lost touch with District 1 and will not come up with real solutions to real problems. He may have helped his constituents in the past, however he recently voted against funding the preservation of the historically black Lake Hall School.

My vision for Leon County has always been clear: use our penny sales tax money for real local business development, creating greater access to affordable housing, living wages, childcare, food justice, more creative outlets for youth, and decreasing crime. I stood on these issues before I became a candidate. I will stand on these issues as the second-ever District 1 County Commissioner, and first woman ever elected there.

Let’s move District 1 forward, together.

Donna Pearl Cotterell is a candidate for the Leon County Commission, District 1. She is a resident of the Bond Community and founder of Indaba Theatre.

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