By DAPHNE TAYLOR
RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. – Rarely are they working in tandem: state officials, county officials and city officials – they all have their own agendas and legislation to push forward.
But in a historic and rare occasion, many of the elected officials on all levels of government came together recently to identify and push forward a cohesive and collaborative agenda for the black community in Palm Beach County.
The elected officials said it was long overdue to get everyone on the same page, pushing forward the needs and concerns of black residents from the state level, county and city municipalities.
Certainly, with a unified targeted action plan more could be done and all the representatives could be more effective in their respective roles, they all explained last Friday night to a packed house at the Riviera Beach City Hall Chambers.
It was evident that county residents welcomed the unity, as demonstrated by their appearance at a Friday night meeting.
State Representative Al Jacquet said it’s all about solving issues facing the community. “This is how we take care of our community. This is how we stay on one accord. We have to be able to work together to solve these issues,” he added.
The issues were varied, and they included education, crime and safety, body cameras, the right of convicted felons to vote, housing, disparity studies in West Palm Beach and the County and police regulations.
“In order to decrease crime and increase education – one of the tools we need is dollars. The biggest problem we have is lack of opportunity to increase our economic stability,” said Lynne Hubbard, city council member for Riviera Beach.
Jaquet touted the need for body cameras across the state. “Not all officers are perfect,” he cautioned. “The question is: was he truly, truly in fear of his life,” he said of officers in deadly situations. “We want body cameras in all police and sheriff’s departments across the state of Florida.”
On the county level, County Commissioner Mack Bernard said he wants body cameras in Palm Beach County. “I want to make sure we have body cameras in the sales tax bill,” he said. Bernard said he is also concerned about housing in Palm Beach County. “A lot of our people cannot afford adequate housing. We’ve got to make sure we get housing right,” he said.
Another issue on the county level is a disparity study to see if the county is doing enough business with minority vendors. “We’re waiting on our disparity study to come back. Less than 3% of the contracting is done by minorities and that’s unacceptable. We don’t need the disparity study to tell us this,” said Bernard.
Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters said he is concerned about community policing. “The cities that are reducing crime around this nation have community policing as their best practices. Our city will soon have policemen walking the streets of the community. That’s the key.”
Education was another key issue heavy on the minds of the panel including KaShamba Miller-Anderson, council member with the city of Riviera Beach, as well as Dr. Debra Robinson, long time child advocate and school board member for Palm Beach County. “The education component is extremely important when you’re trying to uplift the community,” said Miller-Anderson.
“I hope we could work on the social ills that impact our families,” said Robinson, who is working with Superintendent Robert Avossa on reviving the Superintendent’s Task Force on educating black children.
Meanwhile, Jaquet said he is also pushing a $15 minimum wage in Tallahassee.
And with issues such as those being fought on all levels of government, the community can push forward it’s own agenda and finally accomplish some things for the betterment of the black community, touted.
“Now is the time that we have to keep our eye on the ball. We have to be diligent. The real battle is on the local level because this has a direct impact on your quality of life,” said Keith James, city commissioner for the city of West Palm Beach.
All the elected officials present said they hoped this was the first of many collaborative efforts to push the agenda of Palm Beach County’s black community.