It will be 17 days before Lakeland city commissioners appoint an interim city commissioner to represent the northwest district, but several commissioners said today they plan to vote to select Commissioner Phillip Walker to continue in the seat for another year.
Walker had resigned from the commission effective Nov. 7 in connection with his recent bid for the Florida House of Representatives. But three days after he lost that race, he became the last of nine people who put their hat in the ring to be appointed to the seat Walker has held for 13 years.
Commissioners are scheduled to select an interim commissioner on Sept. 19. The person selected will fill the remaining 13 months in Walker’s current term.
City Attorney Palmer Davis told commissioners today that there would be no legal problem with appointing Walker to the seat. His resignation is irrevocable, but the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in a similar case that the appointing authority — in this case the City Commission — has the authority to appoint the person who had resigned, Davis said.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden made it clear she will vote for Walker: “If Commissioner Walker is a candidate, and he has been voted on several times (by the public), I would have a hard time voting for anyone beside Commissioner Walker.”
She commended the eight others who applied for the position and said she hopes they consider running for the seat in next year’s city elections. But she noted that if the commission appoints somebody who then decides to run for the position, that person would have an advantage.
Term limits will keep Walker from running for the seat again.
Commissioner Mike Musick said he also plans to vote for Walker and told several of the other applicants he would do so.
Commissioner Sara McCarley she would do so as well if she were to attend the Sept. 19 meeting, but a previous commitment will keep her away.
Under the City Charter, it will take a vote of a majority of the full commission — at least four votes — to appoint an interim commissioner. With McCarley absent from that meeting and Walker recusing himself from voting, the maximum number of commissioners who will participate in the vote is five.
Mayor Bill Mutz did not say how he intends to vote at today’s meeting, but at one point he asked Davis, “If, as a commission, we felt that there was a probability and we straw voted to some degree, to reappointing Commissioner Walker, could we avoid doing interviews (with the other eight applicante)?”
Davis replied there is no requirement for the commission to interview the applicants for the position. The commission had set more than three weeks from the application deadline to make their choice in the event they wanted to conduct interviews.
The commissioners decided today that they will not conduct interviews.
Commissioner Chad McLeod did not say he plans to vote on the next commissioner, and Commissioner Bill Read was absent from today’s meeting.
The others who applied for the interim commission position were:
- Lolita Berrien, a member of the city Planning & Zoning Board and former presiding chair of the Neighborhood Association Coalition
- Tracy Faison, a registered nurse who has been a business owner and president of Lake Gibson High Booster Club and Lakeland Storm Youth Football and Cheerleading
- Daryl Forehand, a pastor and former correctional service consultant who is a previous president of the Lakeland Police Athletic League
- Guy LaLonde Jr., a Publix meat manager who owns two events businesses.
- Veronica Rountree, a community health services advocate whose community activities include president of the Neighborhood Association Coalition, chair of the Code Enforcement Board and Police Advisory Board
- Ricky Shirah, who owns a towing business, has taken the Chamber of Commerce course for potential candidates has run for City Commission previously
- Samuel Simmons, a former city of Lakeland accountant who is president of the Webster Park Civic Association, a past president of the Neighborhood Coalition Council and a co-founder of the Central Florida Business Diversity Council
- Saga Stevin, a medical lab specialist who ran for mayor of Lakeland last year.
Walker said today he was so busy with his race for the Florida House that he had not considered applying for the vacancy until he lost to Jennifer Canady. He said he talked it over with his wife and concluded that he still had goals to accomplish and would be willing to serve if his colleagues chose to let him.
He said he called several of the other applicants to explain his decision because he has had developed good relationships with them over the years.
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