Step-by-Step Approach to Mayor Vote Churns Along

City commissioners are continuing to follow a cautious, step-by-step approach in dealing with a request to put the strong mayor issue to a public vote.

On Monday, commissioners are scheduled to consider a resolution that would put the issue on a future ballot on an unspecified date.

The resolution calls for City Attorney Tim McCausland to “provide proposed language to appear on the ballot for City Commission approval.”

So if commissioners approve the resolution Monday, it will take future meetings to accept or reject the ballot language and determine when the vote will take place.

The City Commission last month opted for a “deliberate process” in responding to a petition drive by Committee for a Strong Mayor that calls for a referendum on their proposal to change the form of city government. Among other changes, their revision of the City Charter would change the city’s chief administrator from a manager hired by the City Commission to an “executive mayor” elected in a popular vote.

Both proponents and opponents of the strong mayor initiative have been invited to speak at Monday’s meeting. McCausland told commissioners to expect each side to take 20 minutes.

Representatives of Committee for a Strong Lakeland are expected to speak on behalf of their petition. The opposition will be represented by a newly formed group called No Boss Mayor, whose founders include two former city commissioners and retired City Manager Gene Strickland.

The groups are expected to discuss the language on a petition that was circulated by the pro-strong-mayor group as it collected the signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot. Some opponents of the strong-mayor move have suggested the language failed to reflect the full scope of changes to the City Charter proposed by Citizens for a Strong Lakeland.

Strickland is also scheduled to speak to the commission for five minutes earlier in the meeting. He told The Ledger he will ask commissioners to state a board position on the mayor issue.

At an agenda study session this morning, commissioners seemed reluctant to take a formal stand in keeping with McCausland’s advice that they remain neutral arbiters.

Commissioner Don Selvage questioned whether it was appropriate for Strickland to address the board early in the meeting since that would appear to sanction the commission’s giving his side more time than the pro-strong-mayor group.

City Manager Tony Delgado that Strickland followed the procedure open to any resident to ask to speak about a timely issue for up to five minutes.

Lawyers and court reporters are expected to monitor Monday’s meeting.

A week ago, Committee for a Strong Lakeland filed a legal motion challenging the City Commission’s role, saying the commission’s job is a “ministerial” function to place the issue on the ballot, not rule on its merits.

Their motion was denied Wednesday by Circuit Judge Larry Helms, who said the committee failed to show irreparable harm.