Holness, who has represented District 9 while serving as Broward County commissioner since 2010, will fulfill the additional role of vice mayor for a year. For him, the accomplishment is rewarding, especially when his background is considered.
“It is gratifying that my colleagues see fit to honor a country boy from the parish of Hanover, Jamaica, to be one of nine and to have the second in command politically for the county of Broward,” he told Caribbean Todayin a recent telephone interview.
“That’s an awesome journey for someone from the humble beginnings that I’ve had.”
Broward County has nine commissioners, who are elected by residents, with each representing a particular district. Amongst the nine, Holness explained, the mayor and vice mayor are selected, but still maintain their commission post. Avice mayor, he will represent the mayor at events, as well as sign and execute documents in the mayor’s absence.
Holness credits his Caribbean heritage for his tenacity and success in community building.
“Being a little Jamaican but very tallawah means the spirit and the character that is built inside of you from that heritage says you can achieve,” he explained.
“You can be a Nanny and take on the impossible, or Paul Bogle or a Marcus Garvey (all Jamaica national heroes) transforming the world. By leading an organization that to date has been the largest of its kind when it comes to organizing people of the African diaspora, I’m leading that agenda to empower those people and to build the entire African diaspora and even support the development of Africa.”
One of Holness’s top priorities is economic development, particularly the participation of small businesses and minority and women-owned businesses in contracting opportunities. He claimed that since he was elected to office the percentage of small minority/women-owned business participation in government contracts has moved from just over 10 percent to more than 21 percent. There is room, he said, for more improvement.
“In fact, the next 30 years will generate $15.3 billion from the additional penny sales tax on transportation,” Holness added. “And through my leadership, we are now focused on getting 30 percent of that to small, minority, and women-owned businesses.”
Part of his economic development plan involves trade. For the past four years he has hosted the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE), a huge event that last year attracted representatives from 54 countries,including 1,200 attendees. Holness also led a trade mission to India to open doors and opportunities for Florida goods and services to the rest of the world and create lasting bilateral relationships.
His plans are grand, but Holness claims he’s up for the challenges going forward. He said he’s working on two issues that plagueBroward. One is affordable housing. Holness explained that rising housing prices and steady upticks in the county’s population is pushing officials to ensure the availability of affordable housing. Holness said he’s working with developers to implement inclusionary zoning that includes affordable housing.
The other problem Broward must confront, according to Holness, is reforming its criminal justice system.
“We’re locking up too many people and wasting human and financial capital on minor offenses,” he explained.
“Things like an open container of alcohol, loitering, having a little bit of weed, even minor shoplifting are minor issues that we can find alternatives to, such as putting them in programs.
“For example, if you’re likely to do any of these things you probably have a drug addiction or alcohol problem, you might be mentally impaired, you might be severely underemployed and living in poverty.
“Locking you up is not going to solve those issues. So, it’s better for us to bring resources to you… We sent one person to the Broward Addiction Recovery Centre and others to other programs. We are seeking to get them housing, to get them jobs. These are the kinds of things we need to do in order to strengthen the community.”
Holness is up for re-election as commissioner in 2020. Before them, he could become mayor.
“Hopefully, if what is in place continues, come November this year if nothing changes dramatically, my colleagues should then make me the mayor of Broward County,”Holness said.
“That’s the tradition that we’ve had, moving from vice mayor to mayor. Then when I’m re-elected by the people in 2020 I’ll serve another four years and continue the agenda.”