“Poor Don is never going to get away from this.” So said City Commissioner Scott Franklin today just before Don Selvage was tapped for the second time in two years to fill a short-term vacancy on the Lakeland City Commission.
Selvage, a 72-year-old retired Marine colonel, served two four-year terms as a city commissioner before announcing in 2017 he would not seek re-election. He was pressed back into city service in October 2018 when he agreed to serve as an interim commissioner after his successor, Michael Dunn, resigned from the commission when he was charged with second-degree murder.
Selvage’s new stint as an interim commissioner starts Jan. 3, the date Franklin chose when he resigned from his Southwest district commission seat as a condition of running for U.S. Congress. Franklin defeated incumbent Ross Spano in the Republican primary and now faces Democrat Alan Cohn in the Nov. 3 general election.
The interim position could end on April 6, the date of an election to fill Franklin’s seat. If a runoff is needed, Selvage will serve until May 4, the date of the runoff.
Selvage had been asked by Mayor Bill Mutz several months ago whether he would agree to serve in the interim position. His emailed response: “Bill, if asked by the commission to serve I will accept. It strikes me, however, that someone from the Southeast district will be more acceptable to the commission. I am honored that you would consider me again.”
Selvage lives in the city’s Southwest district, but noted in another email to Mutz that he has owned a business — a downtown human resources firm — in the Southeast district for 12 years.
Commissioners decided last month to see who else was interested in the seat and heard from 20 residents who said they wanted to serve. Among them were one other former city commissioner, Keith Merritt; a former city attorney, Joe Mawhinney; and seven people who said they will either run for the seat this spring or are thinking about it.
Mawhinney withdrew his name from consideration because “county involvement” might be construed as a conflict of interest, Mayor Bill Mutz said today.
When commissioners discussed the vacancy this afternoon, Mutz first asked if they’d like to put parameters around the selection, such as whether they preferred somebody who lives in the district or maybe a former commissioner who would be familiar with the city’s inner workings.
No consensus was reached on those parameters, and commissioners decided they would each name their top candidate and see if it led to an outcome.
Four commissioners named Selvage. They were Mutz, Stephanie Madden, Sara Roberts McCarley and Phillip Walker.
Commissioner Chad McLeod named Ashley Troutman, a financial advisor who serves on the city Utility Committee and has been active on several volunteer boards. McLeod and Troutman are co-congregants at Trinity Presbyterian Church, an institution whose membership includes several people elected to office in recent years.
Commissioner Bill Read named Bill Wheeler, owner of an appraisal firm and a six-year member of the Lakeland Code Enforcement Board. Read emphasized that he thinks the position should go to a resident of the Southeast district and said Wheeler is the only one he knows out of three applicants from the Southeast district who stated they are not planning to run for election.
While Franklin participated in today’s discussion, he refrained from voting or stating a preference among the applicants since he will no longer be on the commission when the interim commissioner serves.
When it came time to vote, McLeod endorsed the choice of Selvage and joined the four who suggested him. Read voted against the motion, saying “it was nothing against Don” but about his feeling that the seat should go to somebody who lives in the district.
Selvage said tonight he was honored to be selected. Since he wasn’t elected to the position, he has no grand plan, he said, but he will listen and vote for what he thinks is best.
An election will be held in April to determine who will assume the Southeast district seat through the end of 2021. Another election will be held next fall for a full four-year term in the seat.
People who applied for appointment to the interim position were asked to state whether they planned to run for the seat this spring. Five applicants said they plan to run, and two said they are considering it, according to a compilation by City Clerk Kelly Koos.
Planning to run for City Commission next spring:
- Jennifer Houghton Canady, director of the RISE Institute at Lakeland Christian School and a member of the Florida Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission appointed by Gov. DeSantis.
- James Eckman, a resident of the Southwest district; he did not provide biographical information in his email to the city clerk.
- Allyson Lewis, a law school graduate and Subway franchise owner who hosted a series of “Call to Consciousness” panel discussions on racial reconciliation this year. She lives in the Southwest district.
- James Pilka, a Lakeland native and 2012 Florida Southern College graduate who is currently an entertainment host for Disney Cruise Line.
- Shandale Terrell, a Polk County teacher and community volunteer who has run for seats on the Lakeland City Commission and Florida House of Representatives.
Considering running for City Commission next spring:
- Chanique Davis, a teacher, artist and community activist who offers herself as “a voice of the youth in our community and a representative of diversity and culturally responsive leadership.”
- Boyd Robertson, a retired mechanical engineer who served on the Flagler County School Board and that county’s planning and zoning commission.