In a decision that represents a mile marker in the marathon of deciding if Lakeland will adopt a strong mayor form of government, city commissioners this afternoon voted 7-0 to proceed toward placing the issue on an election ballot.

Before setting a date for the vote, the commission is scheduled at its April 3 meeting to consider proposed ballot language being drafted by City Attorney Tim McCausland. (See the resolution the commission passed here or at the bottom of this article.)

McCausland’s challenge is to reduce a 22-page proposed revision of Lakeland’s city charter into a title of 15 words or fewer and a summary of 75 words or fewer.

The ideal summary will use language that informs and does not try to persuade, McCausland said, noting that the next steps will be scrutinized by both proponents and opponents of the strong mayor move, and the issue could very well end up in court.

One sign of the challenge McCausland faces was a disagreement between the two sides about whether hyphenated phrases, such as day-to-day, would count as one word or three words toward the 75-word maximum.

The room in the Lakeland Electric building where the commission has been meeting lately was filled with influential residents representing both sides of the issue, even as the session crept past the lunch hour.

Both sides were allotted 20 minutes to speak. Larry Durrence, a former mayor and current City Commission candidate representing an opponents’ group called “No Boss Mayor,” attempted to poke holes in petition documents circulated by the proponents, Committee for a Strong Lakeland.

The group gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot, but Durrence argued the petition summary left out significant changes being proposed, such as altering term limits and adding a seventh city commissioner.

“Our feeling is — while we think it’s a bad idea — we have to accept the fact that over 6,300 people signed the petition and we believe that you have to honor the commitment even though we’ve heard reports that some people didn’t really understand what people were signing a petition for,” Durrence told The Ledger.

Speaking in favor were Tallahassee consultant Matt Doster and Tampa attorney Ben Hill III, who argued today’s decision was about law and procedure, and that both sides have said they think the issue should be put before voters.

Under today’s resolution, the public vote can be held as part of a regular election, presumably the Nov. 7 general election, or at a special election. While opponents argued that a special election would be too costly, Hill told commissioners Committee for a Strong Lakeland is prepared to defray some of the costs.

Here’s a look at today’s commission action, seen though Twitter posts during the meeting, followed by video from the meeting and the resolution that was approved:

Meeting video

In this video replay of this morning’s meeting, Gene Strickland’s request begins at 1:20:25 and the discussion of the resolution on the ballot issue starts at 2:29:40 | Go directly to the mayor discussion.

The resolution

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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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