Charter changes: A look at who's helping Tallahassee review its governing document

The Tallahassee City Commission is moving forward with a review of the city charter — something that hasn't been done in 15 years — a process that could bring major changes to the local government.

But first, attention turns to the people on the blue-ribbon panel who've been picked to help commissioners — including one appointee who has raised campaign contributions and was a behind-the-scenes player in last year's election.

The commission announced appointments to the citizen's charter review committee last month. Each commissioner was given two appointments.

The review committee looks to take a deep dive into the city charter. According to the group's bylaws, the members will serve "in an advisory capacity to the Tallahassee City Commission on issues relating to the City Charter."

Among their tasks: Reviewing the number of commissioners who make up the city commission, reviewing how much money commissioners earn and within 90 days of appointment, prepare a formal, written report with any recommended amendments to the city charter.

Here's a look at the Charter Review Committee members and the commissioners who appointed them:

  • Jared Willis (Mayor John Dailey) Lawyer, lobbyist and founder and owner of Catalyst Strategies, a political consulting firm. Former legislative aide for Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

  • Beth Corum (Mayor John Dailey) Former chair of Chamber of Commerce. Member of Tallahassee Memorial Care's board of directors. CEO for Capital City Banking Group.

  • Dr. Elaine Bryant (Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox) CEO and President of EW Bryant Associates. Former appointed city commissioner.

  • Bugra Demirel (Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox) Co-Owner of Demirel International and developer of SoMo Walls on South Monroe Street. Chairman and treasurer of the Grow Tallahassee Political Committee.

  • Mark Mustian (Commissioner Curtis Richardson) Attorney at Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson P.A. and author. Former city commissioner.

  • Sha'ron James (Commissioner Curtis Richardson) Lobbyist on the government affairs team at the Gunster law firm, where she is a shareholder. Former insurance consumer advocate for the state of Florida.

  • Ernie Paine (Commissioner Jeremy Matlow) Former member of the city's Independent Ethics Board who resigned while expressing concerns that the board was being hamstrung by the city commission.

  • Bruce Strouble (Commissioner Jeremy Matlow) Former candidate for city commission. Adjunct history professor for Tallahassee Community College. Senior manager for equitable climate resilience projects with Groundworks USA.

  • Dr. Howard Kessler (Commissioner Jack Porter) Three-time Wakulla County commissioner and former city commission candidate.

  • Chantelle Dorsey (Commissioner Jack Porter) Longtime DJ at WVFS Tallahassee. Employee at The Florida Channel.

Grow Tallahassee connection and fears of 'politicization' of the board

Porter and Matlow questioned certain picks, musing whether they will hamper the committee's effectiveness. In a brief phone interview, Porter worried about the "politicization of the review committee," while hoping the members can focus on ethics reforms.

"When you have these really political people there for political purposes ... then you go and put them in a position where you're going to ask them if (those on the) City Commission should get more money," Matlow said. "It just doesn't sit right with me."

The addition of Demirel caused the most heartburn for Matlow and Porter, who make up the progressive minority faction on the City Commission.

Demirel is the treasurer for Grow Tallahassee, a state political committee and developer-backed group with an affiliated political committee that last year electioneered for candidates. In the 2022 election cycle it fundraised and campaigned for Williams-Cox and vocally supported Dailey and other incumbents while also paying to boost social media posts with negative articles about Matlow and Porter.

Demirel also appears active in the 2024 elections on behalf of community activist Rudy Ferguson, who is running against Porter.

In September, Demirel appeared before the Blueprint Board to ask for $1.8 million for his SoMo Walls distillery project. The Blueprint Board, made up of all 12 city and county commissioners, sets policy for the Blueprint Agency and the Office of Economic Vitality.

The request for public funding for a private development sparked a backlash, but Blueprint went on to award him the money in a 6-5 vote, with Dailey, Williams-Cox, and Richardson in favor.

"You have Bugra Demirel, right after receiving $1.8 million in taxpayer dollars, then get appointed to the charter review committee," Matlow said. "I think there's so many creative professionals, public servants that got appointed," mentioning Mustian and Kessler.

Demirel also was appointed to the Frenchtown-Southside CRA’s Citizen Advisory Committee by Dailey early last year.

Developer Bugra Demirel gives a behind the scenes tour of the construction of SoMo Walls on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.
Developer Bugra Demirel gives a behind the scenes tour of the construction of SoMo Walls on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.

In a statement, Bugra said given his "advocacy within our local political arena," he wasn't surprised by Matlow and Porter's criticism.

"They should redirect the energy spent on these smear campaigns toward constructive efforts at City Hall to address our needs," he said. "Then maybe, by the end of their 12-year combined stint, they'll get something done. So far, it’s been just talk."

Another name that caught Matlow's attention is Jared Willis. He's a lawyer and founding member of Grow Tallahassee.

He stepped away from the group and since then created and runs Catalyst Strategies, a political consulting firm.

Jared Willis
Jared Willis

Willis has been a vocal critic of Matlow in Tallahassee Democrat columns. He hasn't shied away from sharing his connection with the mayor, who appointed him, putting Dailey's name down as his reference.

Matlow says the appointments could bring about a "right wing shift" in local politics.

In a statement, Willis noted that everyone on the committee has different backgrounds.

"I'm excited because I believe that diversity in thought and political leanings will lead to a great outcome for the city," Willis said. "That's why one of my first motions was to find ways to locate the meetings so they are more accessible to the broader community."

The mayor told the Democrat that Corum and Willis "both love Tallahassee, and I know that they will give this their full attention and will do the best job they can, not only representing me and my office, but representing the city and community. I think their hearts are in it, and they'll really dig into the issues."

City Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox, Jack Porter, and Jeremy Matlow pose in front of a White House plaque at the Biden-Harris administration's Communities in Action program event.
City Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox, Jack Porter, and Jeremy Matlow pose in front of a White House plaque at the Biden-Harris administration's Communities in Action program event.

Dailey added that people are always going to talk: "I think there are individuals out there that, no matter who I select to represent my office and represent me, are going to try to make hay out of it."

"I have full confidence in the individuals that I have appointed and quite frankly, I have full confidence in the overall commission," Dailey said.

What happens next

The review committee has a long way to go before the charter is amended. They do get the ball rolling by giving the city commission a list of recommendations.

After that, the commission then has to vote on those recommendations. Whichever amendments receive a passing vote from the city commission will appear on the ballot for the public to vote on during election season.

The review committee's first meeting took place on Tuesday.

In the hour long meeting, the committee gave personal introductions, established ground rules and reviewed their bylaws. The committee members also voted unanimously to make Mustian the chair and Bryant the vice chair.

Their last order of business was to pick a date for their next meeting which will be on Jan. 25 as they look to begin the review process by discussing the number of city commission seats and whether it should be expanded.

CORRECTION: An online version of this story briefly had the incorrect title for Beth Corum.

Arianna Otero is the City Solutions Reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact her via email at or on Twitter/X: @ari_v_otero.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Who's advising city of Tallahassee on possible charter changes?