Debate on City Charter Voting to Continue Through Summer

city hallA recent City Commission decision to keep two controversial changes to Lakeland’s city charter off this fall’s election ballot could discourage citizens from participating on city boards, two commissioners said today.

“I’m going to include a motion Monday for us to include them all at the same time,” Commissioner Scott Franklin said of a slate of proposed changes to the city charter, the city government’s foundational document, which were created by an advisory board in 2016 and 2017. “The things that were substantive were yanked out.”

Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley agreed with the sentiment Friday at a commission agenda study meeting.

“There’s a lion’s share of work that went into this,” she said, adding that “not listening is not really our role.”

Both commissioners said they’ve heard from members of the Charter Review Committee who were discouraged that some of the most important issues they debated may not go before the public anytime soon.

Commissioner Justin Troller said he must have other contacts from the group.

“I’m not getting pushback so I guess we’re talking to different groups,” he said. As to the”upset” committee members, Troller said that goes with the gig.

“We don’t always agree with committee reports and committee recommendations,” he said. “It’s no slight, there’s no disrespect to their efforts.”

The two controversial amendments: one would make it possible for the city to sell Lakeland Electric if it’s approved by a 65 percent majority vote; the other tightens commission term limits from a potential 16 years to a hard 12.

Currently, Lakeland Electric can only be sold if 65 percent of all people registered to vote approve the change, a practical impossibility when considering small turnout for municipal elections.

The majority of the proposed changes are far less controversial, like one cleaning up outdated or inexact language in the charter, and another making the document more gender inclusive.

Mayor Bill Mutz said Friday he thought it would be a good idea to move the controversial questions to a later ballot so as not to confuse the issues.

“I’m ambivalent,” Mutz said of the two big issues, but said he supported the two elections to “minimize confusion.”

City Attorney Tim McCausland told commissioners this topic would linger through the summer as commissioners debate ballot language, amendment packaging and the other details necessary to see the amendments on the Nov. 5 ballot.

More conversation is expected Monday during a first reading of an ordinance adding the charter amendments to the ballot. A binding vote can happen after a second reading at the following commission meeting.

Another idea would be to break up the amendments into three items with the two controversial ones separated from the pack, Mutz said.

That’s easy enough to do, McCausland said, adding the sky’s the limit, but there are practical limitations.

“Why not have 50 ballot questions? The downside of that is people quit reading them,” McCausland said.

The agenda study meeting was thinly attended Friday, with Commissioners Phillip Walker, Bill Read and Stephanie Madden out for the day. Agenda study meetings precede commission meetings and are used to discuss issues and hear briefings ahead of formal debates and votes.