Bill Mutz

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.”

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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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  1. The city and the supporters of the “strong mayor” movement are at odds over when to hold a special election on the issue. The commission wants to ensure voters are well informed and the “strong mayor” folks want to ensure that candidates have time prepare.

    Both goals can be accomplished by including the referendum on the regular election ballot in November.

    Candidates for mayor would run for the office as it currently exists, and citizens would vote on the charter change. If the initiative is defeated, we’re done, and the city government moves on without disruption or confusion.

    If the movement succeeds, the charter would be re-written and properly vetted to establish its legitimacy, and protect it from potential challenges. Once that is done, the current mayor and other eligible candidates could stand for the “strong mayor” position in the next regular election cycle or in a special election in November of 2018.

    Single-issue ballots typically draw the least number of voters making the outcome more likely to be unrepresentative of the citizenship. A change of this magnitude should not be subject to the worst choice.

    This year’s election will present voters with the most choice in many years, with four of seven seats in play, and will surely draw the best turnout in recent times. This is the way to engage the city’s residents and produce the most meaningful results.

    1. Interesting thoughts, Michael. The complicating factor is that the City Commission’s Charter Revision Committee is on schedule to present its update of the charter in June, and presumably that could be on the November ballot. If that happens, we could see two competing city charters on the ballot. Sounds like a recipe for confusion. I’ve been really curious as to how the two camps see this playing out.

  2. and what is the decision process for waiving impact fees, influence in the council, if there is no strong mayor?

  3. will Mr.Mutz be willing to serve as mayor if the charter is changed? How would this impact his approach?

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