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Strong Mayor or strong citizenship?

This post was originally published in June, 2015 and has been updated to reflect the “election” of Bill Read in place of Keith Merritt. Read did not face the voters because he faced no opposition after Mr. Merritt decided not to run two weeks before the qualifying period ended, thus giving Mr. Read a free pass to the commission.

A primary argument proffered by proponents of the ‘strong mayor’ form of municipal government is that an elected official will be more responsive to input and pushback from the citizenship.

The most cynical response to this argument would be that once elected, such a mayor would only be challenged once every four years and that since most incumbents win, it probably wouldn’t be much of a challenge anyway. And when he or she serves his or her final, lame-duck term, what would inspire civic responsiveness at all?

Most cynical indeed.

A less cynical view recognizes the sincerity and positive motivations of anyone willing to stand for public service. Power and money are not really factors in cities like ours with part-time commissioners, all of whom sincerely want the best for their community.

These folks #lovelakeland. No need for further debate about that.

However, ( you knew that was coming, didn’t you? ) over the last eight years they may have given in to their affection for us by spending more money than they had in order to provide the safety and quality of life they believe we deserve. Now the debt is due.

Now we should tell them, thanks, but no thanks. Do not ask the citizenship to add to its financial burden in order to fill the hole you have dug for us. Say “no” to the Fire Assessment Fee. Tell them to find savings, not new revenue. Tell them today. Let’s see what kind of influence we have with elected officials.

Kudos to Billy Townsend for his work in support of gay city employees.

But, as a reference point, who can provide another example of citizens swaying commission opinion? When did it ever change its collective mind about a policy or project as a result of citizen activism? And isn’t that what it is supposed to do?

One commissioner noted that, “besides the bathrooms around Lake Hollingsworth … [ the Fire Assessment Fee reaction ] is the most civic engagement we’ve had in eight years.” If that’s true, shame on us.

But, if that’s true, maybe the commission should take it, and us, into account.

Here’s your test. Contact your commissioner and state your case, for or against. Then let’s see what kind of responsiveness we get from elected officials.

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