City commissioners are about to take another look at the wording voters will see in November when they decide whether Lakeland will switch to a strong mayor form of government.

Commissioners could adopt the wording in their regular meeting Monday, and will most likely discuss it at an agenda study session Friday morning.

A group called Committee for a Strong Lakeland gathered enough petition signatures to put an issue on the Nov. 7 general election ballot that seeks to change the form of city government from one where the City Commission hires a city manager to run the city administration to one where voters elect a mayor who heads the administration.

City commissioners looked at the most recent ballot language proposal April 3, and asked City Attorney Tim McCausland to tweak the language regarding veto overrides and term limits.

McCausland’s latest version of the ballot language comes in at 75 words, the maximum allowed under state law.

Here’s a look at the most significant changes:

Veto override

  • Old version: “(the Mayor) has veto power over decisions of the Commission with 2/3 vote to override”
  • New version: “(Mayor becomes Chief Executive) with veto power over Commission’s legislative actions; Commission can override Mayor’s veto with 2/3 vote;”

Term limits

  • Old version: “expanding term limits for elected officials”
  • New version: “expanding overall elected officials’ term limits, limiting Mayor to 8 years;”

Here is the entire new proposed wording:

Should Lakeland change its government to a Mayor-Commission Plan; where Mayor becomes Chief Executive with authority over City operations and employees, except Lakeland Electric, with veto power over Commission’s legislative actions; Commission can override Mayor’s veto with 2/3 vote; changing Commission’s governing authority to legislative authority; eliminating City Manager; creating Chief Administrative Officer serving at the pleasure of the Mayor; expanding overall elected officials’ term limits, limiting Mayor to 8 years; creating additional Commissioner?

The main point of contention among commissioners at the April 3 meeting was how to characterize the proposal’s effects on term limits:

  • The current city charter limits an officeholder to no more than 12 years on the City Commission or 16 years combined as city commissioner and mayor.
  • The Committee for a Strong Mayor proposal maintains the 12-year limit for commissioners but adds up to two terms as mayor.

McCausland’s reference to an 8-year limit for mayor could draw questions from commissioners since former City Attorney Joe Mawhinney pointed out at the last meeting that the Committee for a Strong Lakeland’s proposed City Charter does not specify the length of the mayoral term.

McCausland said this afternoon that he chose the figure 8 years because the charter proposal specifies a maximum of two terms or eight years, whichever is greater, and a “persuasive provision” in the Florida Constitution calls for four-year terms for certain state officials.

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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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