Brush Up on Two Lakeland Charter Amendments Before You Vote

The elections of mayor and two city commissioners are not the only choices voters will face in Lakeland’s Nov. 2 election. The ballot also includes two proposed changes to the City Charter.

The City Charter is the legal document that establishes the city’s form of government; it’s sort of like a municipal constitution. The two items are proposed amendments that were placed on the ballot by an August vote of the City Commission.

One involves the procedure for filling vacancies on the Lakeland City Commission; the other provides alternates for the city Canvassing Board.

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CHARTER AMENDMENT 1 modifies the procedures for filling vacancies on the City Commission. Commissioners and City Clerk Kelly Koos stated two goals when discussing the changes at a July workshop:

  • Save money by reducing the number of times when special elections are needed. It typically costs the city $150,000 to run a special election and runoff, Koos said.
  • Eliminate the need for three elections for the same seat in one year. That happened this year when a special election and runoff were held this past spring for the southeast Lakeland commission seat currently occupied by Mike Musick. Musick and Shandale Terrell, who ran in both spring elections, are currently facing each other in the fall general election.

VIDEO: View the one-hour discussion that led to the two charter amendments.

THE DETAILS: Check the resolution authorizing the two amendments to see the exact wording changes that would be applied to the City Charter if the amendments are approved.

HOW IT’S DONE NOW: The current method of choosing a replacement for mayor or commissioner is spelled out in Section 6 of Lakeland’s city charter. The wording is technical, but basically the commission chooses a successor if there are less than six months left in the term or six months until the next city election. If there are more than six months left in the term and it’s more than six months until the next election, the commission chooses a successor and schedules a special election in the next 60 to 90 days. 

WHAT THE PROPOSAL CALLS FOR: The commission would appoint the successor, who would serve until the next scheduled city election. Since city elections are held every two years (in odd-numbered years), no appointed commissioner would serve more than two years. 

Here is the wording for Charter Amendment 1 that voters will see on the ballot: Do you favor an amendment to the Lakeland City Charter to fill vacancies on the City Commission at the next regular City election following a vacancy rather than at a special election; requiring that interim commissioners appointed by Commission to fill vacancy in a district seat until next regular election reside in same district as the vacant seat; and prohibiting the interim appointment of individuals otherwise precluded by term limits from serving on the Commission?

The proposed changes mirror the procedure used in many Florida cities, Koos said. It is also similar to replacement of county commissioners and other county elected officials in Florida, where the governor appoints a replacement until the next election if there are less than 28 months remaining in the term.

BACKGROUND: The proposed change came about in part because of confusion over the timing of elections to select a replacement when former Commissioner Scott Franklin resigned to run for U.S. House, an election he won.

Around the time Franklin announced last spring he would run for Congress , he submitted a resignation of his city office effective Jan. 3 of this year, the date Congress convened; that filled the requirements of Florida’s resign-to-run law and left a full year unexpired in his four-year City Commission term.

Franklin and others had assumed his resignation would trigger an election for his successor in last November’s general election. However, the Polk Supervisor of Elections Office has moved municipal elections away from the large even-year elections to odd years for logistical reasons.

As a result, the remaining commissioners appointed Don Selvage — a former commissioner who had not reached term limits — to fill the gap between Franklin’s January resignation and the conclusion of an April special election and May runoff. 

In that runoff, Musick defeated Terrell with 50.7% of the vote. The upshot: Both men are now running in their third election during 2021.

Charter Amendment 2

The other amendment on the ballot involves the composition of the Canvassing Board, which reviews and certifies contested ballots in city elections. Currently, the members of the City Commission make up the Canvassing Board with the exception of commissioners running in the current election.

The proposal on the ballot reads: Do you favor an amendment to the Lakeland City Charter providing for the appointment of the City Attorney and City Manager to the City canvassing board if fewer than three (3) members of the City Commission are available to canvass the returns of a City election?

The issue was placed on the ballot as a safeguard. The city attorney or city manager would be called upon as alternates only if fewer than three city commissioners were able to serve on the canvassing board one year, according to City Clerk Koos, who prompted the amendment. The city clerk administers city elections in cooperation with the Polk Supervisor of Elections Office.

On years when four commissioners are running for election — it would have happened this year if Stephanie Madden had received an opponent — only three commissioners would be eligible to serve on the Canvassing Board. The amendment provides an alternate in the event one of the three remaining commissioners is unable to attend the Canvassing Board meeting.

The Canvassing Board meets in the Polk Supervisor of Elections Office in Bartow at 5 p.m. on the day of each municipal election. Its main job is to compare the signatures of vote-by-mail ballots where questions had been raised about whether the signatures on the envelope and the voter ID match. When signatures are questioned, the voter is contacted and has an opportunity to prove the signature on the envelope is valid, and that often happens prior to Election Day, Koos said.

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