In 2017, the Lakeland City Commission met 23 times in formal public sessions. In the course of those meetings the mayor called for votes for mundane and routine procedural events as well as ordinances and resolutions and recommendations from the city’s professional staff.
A handful of issues generated increased public interest and instigated debate among the commissioners: medical marijuana dispensary regulation, recreation vehicle storage, the one-time benefit for retired police officers, and of course the Munn Park monument.
And we are thankful that there is more agreement than dissent and that there are relatively few instances of controversy.
But the voting record suggests that dissension - and contention - were not welcome. Of the 320 votes recorded, 300 were unanimous.
93.75 percent. This is not likely or natural or encouraging.
6-1 Six times.
5-2 Seven times.
4-3 Seven times.
Twenty times - out of 320 - the vote was not unanimous.
Twelve times, Commissioner Justin Troller voted in the minority, often casting the only dissenting vote. Bravo! Mr. Troller stood on principle and provided his interpretation of citizen representation.
This is his job.
The majority does not need representation because it is the majority. If in fact “the majority rules” was the method of government, we would not need representatives at all. A simple show of hands would do it.
Mr. Troller represents.
All of the commissioners were elected to do so, and while voting with the majority most of the time would be the ordinary expectation of a well managed, smoothly running municipal government, it is absolutely crucial - and incumbent on the commissioners - to represent the segments of our community who are not the majority.
It is the views and voices of citizens who dissent and disagree that must be considered most fairly. Collecting and connecting new and disparate thinking actually is the only way forward. Unanimous consent yields only the status quo at best, and often risks moving us backward.
The newly constituted commission may set a new standard. Joining the often solitary Mr. Troller are Michael Dunn and Scott Franklin who have already demonstrated a willingness to vote on principle even when the subject of the vote is a fait accompli.
Mr. Dunn has positioned himself as a challenger, ready and willing to test the assumptions that come before the commission in the form of staff recommendations. In 2017, only one such recommendation was rejected. Interestingly enough, it was Mr. Troller alone in the “yea” camp.
Either the staff is incredibly effective and perceptive, taking only shoo-ins to the dais, or the commission is simply too ready and willing to follow their lead.
There is only one way to reach a 7-0 vote among seven people.
There are 43 ways to create a non-unanimous majority. That’s a lot of flexibility and opportunity for commissioners and citizens to give voice to “other” ideas.
So, let’s agree to disagree, vote authentically, represent the “other” view, and never join the majority for the sake of unity.