Next Month: Another Forum on Forms of City Government

A committee recommending changes to Lakeland’s city charter is going to take another look at whether the city should switch from a council-manager form to a strong mayor format.

They will invite an expert from each side to present their case at a meeting tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 21 and expected to last three hours.

The decision to reconsider the form of government came after the group came under criticism for quickly dismissing the idea of switching away from the current council-manager form in an 11-3 vote May 25 at one of its first meetings.

Chairman Joe Mawhinney said at yesterday’s meeting that Mayor Howard Wiggs told him he thought the committee sacrificed credibility when it voted to dispatch the strong-mayor idea without examining the issues closely.

At the May meeting, several committee members said that there had been enough community discussions on forms of government that the issues had already been hashed out.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, several committee members said they had also heard from people disappointed that the committee quickly turned away the strong-mayor issue. On the contrary, Mawhinney said, most of the feedback he had gotten until two weeks ago was relief that the review committee decided quickly on the mayor issue and moved on.

The renewed focus on form of government comes after a group pushing for a strong “executive” mayor announced last month it is seeking enough signatures to put its own revamped city charter on an upcoming ballot.

Committee for a Strong Lakeland is proposing that an elected mayor serve as the city’s chief executive with the City Commission becoming the legislative branch, similar to the federal or state government. Collecting signatures from 10 percent of registered voters will authorize an election, likely by mail, on whether the updated charter should be implemented.

Just like the charter review committee appointed by the City Commission, the strong-mayor group is revamping the existing city charter rather than creating a new one from scratch.

The charter review committee is scheduled to finalize its work next summer and turn it over to the City Commission, which will then decide whether to accept or modify the document and whether to put it on an election ballot.