HELP WANTED: Civic-minded individual to serve on the Lakeland City Commission for three to four months starting in January. Experience not necessary. People who plan to run for an April-to-November temporary term can apply, but probably won’t be selected.
The job opening was created when Commissioner Scott Franklin notified the city on April 8 that he would resign effective Jan. 3. The resignation was a condition of his run for the U.S. House, where he won the Republican nomination and now faces Democrat Alan Cohn on the Nov 3 ballot. His term was to have ended on Dec. 31, 2021.
Under the City Charter, the most cost-effective way to fill the vacancy is for commissioners to appoint an interim commissioner to serve from Jan. 3, 2021, until the regularly scheduled countywide municipal election on April 6, City Attorney Palmer Davis says. If that election ends up in a runoff, the term will extend to May 4, the date of the runoff.
The deadline to apply for the nonpartisan position is Sept. 30. Applicants should send an email to City Clerk Kelly Koos at email@example.com.
Koos said the email should include contact information and a statement saying whether they intend to serve only the interim period or whether they also intend to run for election to fill the remaining eight to nine months of Franklin’s term. They may also want to enclose a resume, she suggested.
Franklin’s Seat D represents the Southeast District. To serve in the interim position, applicants do not have to live in the Southeast District, Koos said. However, those who run in the April election must live in the district, which includes the portions of the city east of Florida Avenue and generally south the CSX railroad tracks. (See a map.)
City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the applications during their Oct. 5 meeting and make the interim appointment during their Oct. 19 meeting.
But applicants should be forewarned that commissioners’ first inclination was to fill the interim position with a former commissioner who could step in without the learning curve a newcomer would have. And several commissioners said that situation would avoid the appearance of favoring a particular candidate during the April election.
Mayor Bill Mutz said he already has spoken with former Commissioner Don Selvage, and reported that Selvage would be willing to fill the interim vacancy and is not interested in running for the seat.
Commissioner Phillip Walker said he also had spoken with Selvage and with former Commissioner Edie Yates, who had served 12 years representing the Southeast District, the same district Franklin represents.
And Commissioner Stephanie Madden suggested considering former Commissioner Justin Troller, who termed out of office last January; she said he would be most up-to-date on the issues.
But after lengthy discussion, Davis said it appears that commissioners who had termed out of office, having served three four-year terms, would not be eligible to serve in the interim position.
That disqualifies Yates and Troller, and brought commissioners back to Selvage — and any other residents who apply.
Selvage was elected to represent the Southwest District in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 but did not file to run for a third term in 2017. He returned to the commission in an interim capacity from Oct. 26, 2018, until a special election was held on Jan. 15, 2019, after the resignation of Michael Dunn. Dunn had been arrested on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of a suspected shoplifter in his store. Dunn’s case is still pending in the courts.
“I hope (former) Commissioner Selvage is interested,” Commissioner Chad McLeod said. “But it would serve us well to see who else is interested. There is no harm in seeing who else is interested and they may see things with fresh eyes. We may come back and say Commissioner Selvage makes sense; he knows the process; he knows the city staff.”
Madden said she has spoken with three people who have expressed interest in running for the seat. While that does not mean they would fill out the paperwork for the interim position nor that they would ultimately run for the seat, “I would be reticent to vote for someone who is interested in the interim position and in running for the office, giving them the advantage of being an incumbent in the election.”
Mutz said that he also thinks appointing an interim commissioner who may end up running would be giving an advantage to that person.
While it would not be a requirement that an applicant not run in the April election, “it would be good to know the intent,” Mutz said.
Franklin said that when he submitted his resignation letter back in April with an effective date of Jan. 3, he expected the special election to fill his seat would be included on the November general election ballot. Had he known it could not be, he would have timed his resignation differently, he said.
Several issues complicated what Franklin had expected to be a smooth transition.
- The Lakeland City Charter specifies that upon resignation of a city commissioner, the commission appoint an interim commissioner for at least 60 days until a special election is held. The charter addresses unexpected resignations but does not take into account a circumstance such as Franklin’s, when an expected resignation could be timed to avoid appointing an interim commissioner.
- The Polk County Supervisor of Elections Office separates municipal elections from the November general election in an effort to streamline the process. The municipal election date is the second Tuesday in April.
- If the city were to hold a stand-alone special election, it would cost $184,000 to rent the polling equipment, double that amount if a run-off were needed.
City Attorney Davis said that tying the special election into the April municipal elections date has the advantages of meeting the charter requirement to appoint an interim replacement and of not costing the city extra money to rent polling equipment.
Davis suggested that in the future, the commission may want to consider changing the charter to take into account some resignations are foreseen.
Commissioners are paid roughly $30,000 per year.
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