It sounds counterintuitive, but Bill Mutz says he’s running for mayor to demonstrate that you don’t have to have a strong mayor to have strong leadership at City Hall.
Mutz, a businessman with a long list of civic leadership roles, is firmly opposed to the effort to change Lakeland’s system of municipal government from the council-manager form to one run by an elected “strong” mayor.
To Mutz, the best form of city government is one where a professional manager is overseen by a commission that acts as a board of directors guided by a chair/mayor who provides “a sparkplug of enthusiasm” and communication skills to reach consensus and get to decisions quickly.
Mutz, who has never run for elective office before, was the first person to publicly declare he was running for mayor this year when he filed for the office Feb. 10. So far, no other candidates have filed for mayor. Prospects have until Sept. 22 to qualify to run in the Nov. 7 election.
When Mutz announced he wanted to be mayor, many wondered whether he was interested in the strong mayor position that is being advocated by a group called Committee for a Strong Lakeland or for the current position, which serves largely as the commission chair and ceremonial head of government.
The question reflects the uncertainty surrounding the timetable for decisions regarding the future of the mayor’s position:
- Committee for a Strong Lakeland circulated a petition asking for a referendum on the strong mayor issue and collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, according to the Supervisor of Elections.
- The next step, city officials say, is for the City Commission to review ballot language and set a referendum. Unless legal action intervenes, the vote by registered voters would be held by Nov. 7, under state law. Strong mayor proponents have floated the idea of a relatively quick mail-in election, but city commissioners indicated they’ll take a slow, deliberative approach to reviewing documents and setting a date.
- Meanwhile, a 15-member committee appointed by the City Commission is targeting June as their deadline to recommend updates to the City Charter. Among their recommendations: Maintain the council-manager structure. City commissioners will review the recommendations with an eye toward putting an updated charter on an upcoming election ballot.
Against this backdrop, Mutz said the timing was right to jump into the mayor’s race to lend his voice in support of the current system.
Mutz says he’s “adamantly” opposed to the strong mayor proposal because, with a small base of people voting in city elections, the system is “subject to manipulation from supporters who have an agenda to advance … The agenda may or may not be in the best interest of the city.”
And he adds about his decision to run for office: “It’s a good time in my life to give back.”
At 63, he no longer has the business commitments he had when he owned Lakeland Automall, and most of his dozen children no longer live at home. He and his family moved to Lakeland from Indianapolis in 1996 when Mutz and his sister purchased the auto dealership, which they sold in 2011.
Mutz said his involvement on civic and business boards has given him good perspectives on the needs of the community. He lists these board memberships, noting he has chaired many of them: Lakeland Regional Health, VISTE, Southeastern University, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Florida, Lakeland Economic Development Council, Salvation Army, Lakeland Christian School, Central Florida Speech and Hearing, Community Redevelopment Agency downtown and midtown advisory boards, Citrus & Chemical Bank and Allen & Co.
Lakeland, he says, has benefitted from decades of good civic leadership and he hopes to build on that work. He contrasts Lakeland’s dynamism with the lack of progress he’s seen in his hometown of Columbus, Ind.
In Columbus, Cummins Inc., has been a civic booster, and its foundation enhanced the city’s architecture during the middle of the last century by paying noted architects to design public buildings. But city leaders “became too dependent on the benefactors” and progress stalled, Mutz said.
Mutz said, “We’re on the cusp of so many great things,” such as the recently announced Bonnet Springs Park west of downtown. “We can change who we draw to Lakeland. We can be discerning about the best opportunities — bring companies that will provide jobs, healthy growth and good corporate citizens. We want to make it harder for people to want to leave Lakeland.”
At City Hall, he said, he’d like to bring greater efficiency and act as a sounding board for City Manager Tony Delgado, whom he praises.
Like many others, Mutz talks of bringing a customer service approach to city government and ask smart questions “to find out what the customer really wants.”
There are three issues he says he will not compromise on. In his opinion:
- The city should not sell Lakeland Electric.
- A strong mayor form of government carries too many risks.
- Impact fees are useful to fund growth.
“We want to have people pay their way. I am an impact fee proponent. They can be waived when there are huge reasons to do so (but) if businesses are going to profit from a development, they need to help fund how they impact the area.”