Pablo Sologaistoa, one of the eight people who initiated the petition that got the strong mayor issue on the Lakeland election ballot, says he no longer supports the initiative and will vote against it.

Sologaistoa, who is running for the southwest seat on the Lakeland City Commission, said he objects to the provision that would give the city’s elected chief executive a line-item veto.

Lakeland voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to adopt a new city charter that changes the form of city government from a system where a city manager hired by the City Commission runs city departments to one where an “executive mayor” elected by voters runs the departments.

The proposed charter includes a line-item veto, which would allow the mayor to overturn individual items in the budget passed by the City Commission. That gets the mayor too involved in legislation and opens the door to intimidation, Sologaistoa said, adding, “The appropriate name for the act is the strong-arm mayor.”

Sologaistoa today emailed a letter to City Clerk Kelly Koos saying he is resigning from the Committee for a Strong Lakeland.

Sologaistoa’s name has already been removed from the Committee for a Strong Lakeland website, where the rest of the original petitioners are still listed. They are: Bruce Anderson, Gregory Fancelli, Usman Faruq, Chris McLaughlin, Brooke Agnini, Grant Miller and Natalie Oldenkamp.

Malless opposes strong mayor charter

Another City Commission candidate who supports the strong mayor concept recently made a public statement against the ballot proposal.

Jim Malless, the only incumbent running for re-election, had been an early supporter of the idea, but announced on Facebook last week that he does not back the version of the city charter promoted by Committee for a Strong Lakeland because it gives the mayor too much power at the expense of the City Commission.

Matt Doster, spokesman for Committee for a Strong Lakeland, said he doesn’t consider Sologaistoa’s resignation or Malless’ statement a setback. “Pablo and I had a cordial conversation,” he said, adding Sologaistoa had been told there would be a conflict between remaining on the committee and running for office.

Regarding Malless, Doster said, “We’ve considered what we’re doing separate from any individual candidacy. We believe the voters of Lakeland are the most important decision maker.”

Sologaistoa, a 28-year-old who completed four years at Southeastern University as a theology major, also takes issue with No Boss Mayor, the organization that formed to oppose the strong-mayor move. His objections:

  • Group leaders characterize the strong-mayor petitioners as outsiders, a reference aimed at Fancelli, who is funding the Strong Lakeland effort. While Fancelli lives outside Lakeland half the year, Sologaistoa said, he is heavily invested in the city, and the rest of the petitioners live here and work for civic improvement.
  • The group’s “if it isn’t broke, it doesn’t need fixing” attitude and contention that the current system works well are untrue, he said, noting that many people feel that former City Manager Doug Thomas should have been fired but divisions on the City Commission kept him in the job until he found another position and resigned.

Researching line-item vetoes

Sologaistoa said he is grateful to Doster for asking him to join the Committee for a Strong Lakeland at a time when he was learning more about city government and looking to get involved.

While he said he read the city charter proposal early on, he never “looked at it politically” until he decided to run for City Commission and he started thinking about the legacy he would leave for any future children and grandchildren.

“Is the petition just and balanced? Is it a team effort? I would say no. It becomes an issue of justice,” he said.

His research into the line-item veto and especially a U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated a Clinton-era law granting the president that power convinced him that line-item vetoes can promote the kind of political horse-trading that yields bad policy, Sologaistoa said.

Under the proposed charter on the November ballot, it would take a vote of at least five of the seven city commissioners to override a veto. The charter also invalidates votes to override budget items if the overrides taken together cause expenditures to exceed anticipated revenues.

Doster said that the committee drafting the strong-mayor charter (Sologaistoa joined the effort after the charter was written) had lengthy discussions about the line-item veto. Line-item vetos are “pretty universally available in mayor forms of municipal government,” he said, and added the ability of the City Commission to override vetoes provides checks and balances.

Across the U.S., governors in all states but six have been granted the line-item veto.

Running for office

Sologaistoa is one of four announced candidates for the southwest seat on the City Commission. Others in the race are: Michael Dunn, who owns Vets Surplus; Larry Durrence, who heads the No Boss Mayor effort; and Jorge Fonseca, chief administrative officer of Romero Medical Plaza.

Dunn, who has said he opposes the strong mayor initiative, has received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Fancelli.

Sologaistoa, who reported no contributions as of the end of June, said he just recently began soliciting campaign contributions.

As he’s attended public events to campaign for office, Sologaistoa said, he’s heard little support for the strong-mayor concept. Attendees at recent meetings of the Republican Club of Lakeland and the Lakeland Democratic Club were cool to the idea and the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce board opposed the measure, he said.

Still, the vote is more than three months away, and a lot more Lakeland residents are starting to hear about the issue.  The Committee for a Strong Lakeland has recently stepped up its publicity campaign, placing ads, releasing an animated video and commencing door-to-door canvassing.

Sologaistoa’s resignation letter:

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com 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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