Q&A With District 10 City Council Candidate Celestine Mills

May 2, 2019

Early voting in Jacksonville’s runoff elections is now underway ahead of Election Day, May 14.

District 10 City Council Democratic candidate Celestine Mills is a prosthetic coordinator at One Call Care Management, a workers’ compensation company that helps injured patients get prosthetics.

The seat Mills is running for is being vacated by Republican Councilman Terrence Freeman, who’s now a candidate for the At-Large Group 1 seat against former chair of the Duval County Democratic Party Lisa King. Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Freeman to replace indicted and suspended Councilman Reggie Brown last year.

Mills is running against Democrat Brenda Priestly Jackson.  

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What do you consider the most pressing issue facing District 10?

Well, there are four that I have: education, employment, affordable housing, and preventative programs.

We have now ceasefire. And the Mayor just adopted Cure Violence, which is supposed to be in place, I think, the first part of this summer. So we need to make sure that we have programs that not only target the youth, because the different things that are happening in Jacksonville.

Related: Jacksonville City Council Funds ‘Cure Violence’ Program To Start in 2 High-Crime Zones

I know that the statistics will show that there's more crime on the Northside than it is on any other side. And that could possibly be, you know, true. But what I have to get people to understand is that we got to make sure we're properly preparing people in District 10. And when I say that, we have to make sure that they have a chance at having a 21st century education.

A lot of our young people are ill prepared for employment and we need to make sure that we're doing that. We need to have more apprenticeship programs, The Westside Skills Center, and all of the other skills that were built in Jacksonville. We need apprenticeship programs, not just for dropouts, but also people who want to go and get a craft.  

Everybody doesn't want to go to college. It took me a while to go and be serious about it. I think we need to make sure that we're awarding those opportunities, so when these businesses come to Jacksonville that we are we are able to apply for those jobs, and we can receive those jobs. I want to make sure that District 10 receives that type of education and training, so they'll be ready to move forward. And they can make a livable wage.

The City of Jacksonville has been working on addressing food deserts in the Northwest side. How do you think the issue should be addressed?

We should follow the inner city communities in Greensboro, North Carolina, Hendricksville, North Carolina, and Philadelphia. They have introduction of food and community owned grocery stores. I think if we can put grocery stores in there where we actually have a stake, it would be something that people would always go to and patronize.

I wanted a community garden. I want fresh produce or vegetables. I want to make sure programs are available to teach us how to eat healthy. We all want to eat healthy, because we want to live a long time. So I would like to incorporate some of those.

As far as the different chains that are there, we just got to get stores that people feel proud to go in, and that they don't mind going in purchasing things for their family. And making sure there's a nutrition session. You can see Whole Foods, you can see Fresh Market, you know, those places are throughout Jacksonville. But when it comes to District 10, they're nowhere to be found. And, you know, I want us to eat healthy. There's a lot of health problems that come behind that. And if you look, there's nothing over there in District 10. Well, I don’t want to say nothing. There’s a Krystal and a Jenkins Barbecue that’s been there a long time [as well as a] Taco Bell. But nothing nutritious. There’s not a gas station, you know there’s only one, and you got to go a little ways down to get another.  

I just feel that we've got to find a way to incorporate food chains that will come and help us develop those areas. So I would be looking to mimic some of those communities that have had issues with food deserts and the change that they have. And I haven't been talking with some of the states to see how they're going about it. You know, what was the success rate with a community chain? So I'll be looking outside of the box.

If elected, what would you do to curb crime?

There is no one catch fit all. I'm sorry, I wish it was just that cut and dry. But like I said, until we get the educational system together, Florida is number 42 in the state. And that's really bad. And with that, like I said earlier, it ill prepares our youth for employment. So what we need to do is make sure that we have programs that we can challenge their energy to and maybe we can save them from getting involved in something. People of any walks of life, we want a livable wage, we want to be able to work, take care of families, and maybe have a little enjoyment if we can. But because of the crime - I don't think people are born and they just want to do things to hurt other people.

But I do think when there's not opportunities that you can see past what you see today, that will plague your community. So I want to get in and definitely stick with the program [Cure Violence] that the Mayor has - make sure that those centers are operating at places where people can get to. We just got to have more to do for the youth. But unfortunately, it's not just the youth that's committing crimes.

There are some, you know, senior adults, middle aged adults - it’s just not one target area. But I've been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and I know that they're going to be willing to come to the table and work with me, so we can gain the trust of the community. So, when we see something, we can say something.

I go to CPAC [Citizens Planning Advisory Committee] meetings a lot and the Sheriff Advisory meetings, and I hear constituents say, if you call downtown, they'll tell who you are. And that should never happen if you want to remain anonymous.

So if we can work on the trust factor within the community, like more boots on the ground, work closely with a police officer - I think that we can probably, you know, secure the communities to show that we're not just there to police you or harass you. We truly want to get to the bottom of what's going on, so we can have our neighborhood safe.

I just think more resources and programs are needed to make sure that we're targeting where people can see that there's a happy dream past tomorrow.

One of the two sites of the Cure Violence Program is going to be in your district. What do you think about the program and its approach to crime prevention?

I went to the overview when a gentleman came from, I believe Chicago, and I was excited. And I listened to some of the concerns that a lot of people had that were there along with me. And I think if we get people involved in Jacksonville, the biggest gripe to me was that people had a lot to say.  

It's going to have to be tweaked for Jacksonville. And I think if we get people involved in Jacksonville, the biggest gripe to me was that people had a lot to say about Chicago has just as much crime in Jacksonville, if not more. How can we have strangers coming in our city, and telling us what to do with the program?

I didn't look at it that way. I looked at it as it was an overview as to how the program should be run. They may start out just trying to help you to make sure you have the right task committees in place, so you can have an effective program.

I just want to make sure that it's available to everyone that's in the district because if you don't have a car, I want to make sure that's open for you. We just have to make sure that these Cure the Violence programs are in areas that are easily reachable. So that's what I'm going to look at, but that won't be my only resource to try to curb the violence.

Would you support imposing impact fees on developments or raising a sales tax to generate revenue to help with the Duval School District’s repair and replacement costs?

We may have to look at that. I would be working with my constituents across the board to see what the best way is. If we have to do [it] with impact fees - right now I don't think we have impact fees - and that may be something we may have to go back to the drawing board with.

I would be happy to look at any paperwork, any research, to make sure that if we have to do that if it's needed, because I want to make sure that not only am I making tough decision about District 10, but I want to also make sure that the tough decisions are made when it comes to the citizens of Jacksonville.

So we may have to all come back. I know they're talking about consolidating different schools. I don't know if that's the right thing to do.

And I stand strongly behind that. When they want to consolidate Raines, Ribault, and I believe Northwestern [high schools]. And that's a problem. That's a big problem. I think we're all on the Council have to like forget about who we are and make sure we dig in and work across the board with each other to make sure that we're doing what's in the best interest of Jacksonville. And that's making sure that we have an educational outcome that's across the city of Jacksonville.

Should the city be doing more to address sea level rise? If so, what?

We have a long standing issue with flooding in Jacksonville. Flooding and heavy rains and hurricanes and Nor’easters and other water issues that we may have.  We must invest in the infrastructure in Jacksonville to make areas like Downtown, San Marco, Northwest Jacksonville and other areas barely equipped to handle rain, heavy rains [and] associated storms.

I don't know if you remember, you probably do the biggest kick with Irma was Washington Heights. And I think we should let that serve as notice to the city officials of what could occur in other communities in Jacksonville as we are approaching today's climate changes.

What issue or type of legislation do you see yourself leading?

There are two that I would be proud to introduce. One would be public education, namely increasing resources to promote a better - across the board - educational outcome, better pay for teaching teachers, [and] 21st century curriculum for District 10 students. Those are some initiatives that we like to start on, because it is a it's a big problem.

I go to schools in District 10 and I went to one school that I don’t want to name. They've already had three teachers in this one class. So, that tells me that the structure can be broken each time. Because now they have to get used to a new teacher, a new teacher has to get used to them. And by the time she's getting used to her students, she's gone.

We've got to do something with attracting more teachers who are qualified to work with the schools that are struggling. And there are some struggling schools in District 10. We have a lot of talent in Jacksonville with the teachers that we have, but we need more.  We need teachers who want to work with schools that are having difficulties coming up to [become an] A school because that's what I want to see. I want to see an A school.

My next bill would be to introduce affordable housing. Jacksonville has a critical shortage with affordable housing for working families and low wage families. Too many people in America want the dream to own a home. But as you can see, it is a miracle now to do it. An average person at the minimum wage would have to work 75 hours per week. Now I work 75 hours in two weeks.  They would need to work 75 hours per week to even afford a one bedroom apartment. And I think that's just bad.

Related: Jacksonville Has An Affordable Housing Shortage

We need to have programs that public and private partnerships for it’s called rent control and rent stabilization. And what I mean by that is that the public and private partnerships. They won't be able to spiral out of control with raising the rent. So that's what I want to see in Jacksonville, so we can adopt something like that.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, aadan@wjct.org or on Twitter at @abukaradan17