The job will last only three or four months, but 20 Lakeland residents applied to fill a short-term vacancy on the City Commission. Among them are two former commissioners, an ex-city attorney and seven people who say they may be running for the commission seat next spring.

The vacancy, which starts Jan. 3, came about when current Commissioner Scott Franklin resigned to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. It will last three to four months — until somebody is elected to fill out the rest of Franklin’s commission term, which ends Dec. 31, 2021.

The City Commission is tasked with appointing the short-term member, under Lakeland’s city charter. The commissioners could make a choice as soon as Monday, but a decision may be delayed until their Oct. 19 meeting.

When commissioners initially discussed the vacancy last month, at least two suggested appointing former Commissioner Don Selvage since he has experience and is eligible; unlike two other recent commissioners, he didn’t reach term limits.

But commissioners decided to see who else was interested and they gave applicants until this past Wednesday to let City Clerk Kelly Koos know if they were interested. All applicants were asked to say which quadrant of the city they live in and if they are interested in running in the spring election.

The seat Franklin holds on the nonpartisan board represents Southeast Lakeland. Commissioners were divided during a Friday meeting on whether the person they appoint should live in the Southeast district; the City Charter doesn’t specify residency for appointed commissioners.

Commissioners have brought up two main questions to sort out in making the appointment:

  • Should people planning to run for election to the seat be considered for the appointment? Last month several commissioners said they feel doing so would be perceived as playing favorites or tipping the scales. Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley argued otherwise.
  • Should a former commissioner be favored? Several commissioners said Friday and last month that a recent former commissioner would already know the issues and city structure. Still, there has been no formal decision on that question.

The appointed commissioner will serve until a new member is elected this spring. That election has been set for April 6; if a runoff is needed, it will be held May 4. Candidates interested in running will file at the City Clerk’s Office during the week of Feb. 15.

Another election will be held next fall for several commission seats, including a full four-year term for the Southeast district position. Presumably the winner of the spring election will run again and enjoy the benefits of incumbency.

Here is a list of applicants for appointment to the City Commission, as compiled by the City Clerk’s Office. It is divided into four groups: those who say they plan to run for the seat; those who say they are thinking about running; non-candidates who live in the Southeast district; non-candidates who live elsewhere in Lakeland.

Planning to run for City Commission next spring:

  • Jennifer Houghton Canady, director of the RISE Institute at Lakeland Christian School and a member of the Florida Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission appointed by Gov. DeSantis.
  • James Eckman, a resident of the Southwest district; he did not provide biographical information in his email to the city clerk.
  • Allyson Lewis, a law school graduate and Subway franchise owner who hosted a series of “Call to Consciousness” panel discussions on racial reconciliation this year. She lives in the Southwest district.
  • James Pilka, a Lakeland native and 2012 Florida Southern College graduate who is currently an entertainment host for Disney Cruise Line.
  • Shandale Terrell, a Polk County teacher and community volunteer who has run for seats on the Lakeland City Commission and Florida House of Representatives.

Considering running for City Commission next spring:

  • Chanique Davis, a teacher, artist and community activist who offers herself as “a voice of the youth in our community and a representative of diversity and culturally responsive leadership.”
  • Boyd Robertson, a retired mechanical engineer who served on the Flagler County School Board and that county’s planning and zoning commission.

Not planning to run and live in Southeast Lakeland:

  • Becky Abel, a 12-year employee of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.
  • Joe Mawhinney, city attorney from 1989 to 2001, a member of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority Board from 2003 to 2011 and chair of the city’s Charter Review Committee in 2016 and 2017.
  • Karyann Villalobos, owner of an insurance and accounting business for 10 years.
  • Bill Wheeler, owner of an appraisal firm, a six-year member of the Lakeland Code Enforcement Board and past chair of Alliance for Independence.

Not planning to run and live elsewhere in Lakeland:

  • Landon Beck, a project manager with Aspyre Properties and a recent MBA graduate.
  • Kel Britvek, a former intelligence professional who ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination for the local U.S. House seat this year.
  • Jiwa Farrell, a former insurance adjuster who unsuccessfully challenged Bill Read for the Lakeland commission last fall.
  • Daryl Johnson, a Certified Public Accountant who serves on Lakeland’s Utility Committee and formerly served on the Lakeland Housing Authority.
  • Keith Merritt, a lawyer who served on the Lakeland City Commission from 2012 to 2015.
  • Don Selvage, owner of a human resources company and retired Marine colonel who served on the Lakeland City Commission from 2010 to 2017 and as an interim replacement for three months in 2018-19.
  • Janet Shearer, a 34-year real estate agent who served on the Polk County Commission from 1996 to 2000; she recently became a professional guardian.
  • Ashley Troutman, a financial advisor who serves on the Lakeland Utility Committee and is current board chair of Lighthouse Ministries.
  • William Watts, vice president of corporate synergy with Fintech Mortgage Association; he was defeated by McCarley in a three-way race for the Southwest district seat in January 2019.

Selvage, the former commissioner, said in an email to Mayor Bill Mutz, “Bill, if asked by the commission to serve I will accept. It strikes me, however, that someone from the Southeast district will be more acceptable to the commission. I am honored that you would consider me again.” In a separate email he noted that he has operated a business in the Southeast district for 12 years.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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