Saying the current form of city government “best serves the interests of the community,” the political arm of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce voted today to oppose the proposal to change to a strong mayor system.

Members of BusinessVoice of Greater Lakeland Inc. voted unanimously to oppose the strong-mayor proposal that goes before voters on the Nov. 7 city election ballot, Chamber President Cory Skeates announced.

“The current ‘council-manager’ form of government in Lakeland best serves the interests of the community and should remain the same at this time,” BusinessVoice Chair Mike Hickman, a home builder, said via a news release.

This morning’s vote at a regular, monthly meeting of BusinessVoice members was separate from a forum on the strong mayor issue the Chamber held last Wednesday and a survey that was emailed to chamber members on Friday, Skeates said.

Video replay of last week’s Chamber forum on the strong mayor issue:

The head of the No Boss Mayor group organized to oppose the strong-mayor issue said he wasn’t surprised by the BusinessVoice position.

“If you’re making an investment as a business person you’d want to know there’s stability and predictability, and the commission-manager form has provided that. Also, the commission-manager form is based on corporate management structure. So there’s an affinity for it.”

– Larry Durrence of No Boss Mayor

A spokesman for the group promoting the strong mayor initiative also said the move was not a surprise.

“We’re seeing a consistent theme, which is a discomfort for letting the people of the city choose Lakeland’s leader.  The establishment class usually favors the status quo, especially when it sees a potential for loss of influence.  The Chamber certainly does represent their own special interests, but we do not think they speak with authority about the people’s interests.”

– Matt Doster, Committee for a Strong Lakeland

Committee for a Strong Lakeland collected enough signatures from registered Lakeland voters to put their proposal before the voters in the form of an updated city charter.

The group pushed for an August vote on the issue, but city commissioners voted 5-2 last month to put the issue on the November ballot, which will also include races for mayor and three City Commission seats.

If approved by a majority of voters in November, Lakeland’s form of government would change from one in which the administration is run by a city manager who reports to elected city commissioners to one in which an elected “executive mayor” runs the city administration.

UPDATE: Skeates said Thursday morning that the chamber is not ready to release the results of its member survey about the strong-mayor issue. “As it was a chamber survey and the chamber itself is yet to take a position, I would say we need to wait until after that is decided as it will be used as part of that process,” he said in an email.

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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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