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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED March 4, 2010
A group of former Sarasota mayors is endorsing the idea of an elected mayor. The 15 former mayors discussed the idea of once again presenting voters with an elected-mayor referendum.
“The idea of someone in that position gives people an idea of what the city is going to do,” said former Mayor Kerry Kirschner. “There is no community agenda now.”
Twelve of the 15 former mayors supported the idea of a “leadership mayor.” Three were against it.
A leadership mayor is defined as someone who is directly elected to a four-year term, presides over the City Commission and signs official city documents. Any additional duties are optional and would have to be voter approved.
This differs from last year’s “strong mayor” referendum, in which the mayor would be given many other duties, including setting the city’s budget.
The new proposal would keep the five-member City Commission as is, with one of the commissioners elected as mayor. Kirschner said details have not yet been worked out, but one scenario would be that the top vote-getter among the two at-large commission seats would be named mayor.
Last year’s referendum called for a seven-member commission. That referendum failed, as did other elected-mayor drives in 1996, 2002 and 2006.
The majority of the group thinks the simplicity of the leadership mayor may make this push different.
“Those of us (former mayors) who wanted to see an elected mayor, didn’t like the way the last referendum was written,” said Kirschner.
Former Mayor Mollie Cardamone said she isn’t necessarily in favor of a leadership mayor, but she voted for it, because she thought the public should debate it.
The former mayors cite Tallahassee as an example of a city with a leadership mayor. It switched in 1996 from a system similar to Sarasota’s to its current mayoral system.
Tallahassee’s mayor has four official duties: commission facilitator, economic-development representative, intergovernmental representative and public educator (see sidebar at right).
Only three other Florida cities comparable in size to Sarasota do not have elected mayors — Homestead, Margate and North Port.
David Merrill is one of the former mayors who does not like the leadership mayor, mainly because he doesn’t think it differs much from the current system.
“It’s not giving the mayor any real power,” he said. “I can’t see that we’ve really done anything.”
Merrill said if a leadership mayor supported a position on any particular issue, he would still have to persuade two other commissioners to vote along with him to get it approved — just like any commissioner would have to do today.
Kirschner said the real value in the leadership mayor is that it gets the city away from the current system, in which city commissioners appoint each other to a one-year mayoral term. He feels that encourages the commissioners to only represent their district and not consider what’s best for the entire city.
“When I was in office, I felt everyone had an idea of what’s best for the entire city,” said Kirschner. “Over the years, we’ve devolved to neighborhoods are for neighborhoods and downtown is for downtown and never the twain shall meet.”
Contact Robin Roy at email@example.com
Former mayors in favor of leadership mayor: Ann Bishopric-Sager, Mollie Cardamone, Jerome DuPree, Jack Gurney, Al Hogle, Kerry Kirschner, Carolyn Mason, Ron Norman, Lou Ann Palmer, Rita Roehr, Mary Anne Servian and Fred Soto
Former mayors against leadership mayor: Elmer Berkel, Bill Kline and David Merrill
The 12 former mayors who support another elected-mayor drive cite Tallahassee as a good example of a city with a leadership mayor. The duties of Tallahassee’s mayor are described as:
Commission facilitator — Conduct effective commission meetings; maintain open communication among city commissioners; and maintain open communication with appointed officials and city staff.
Economic-development representative — Serve as contact for businesses; maintain working relations with business and institutional communities; and represent city policies and direction through commission guidelines.
Intergovernmental representative — Represent the city to other policy and political leaders at federal, state and county levels; participate in the city’s coordinated lobbying program; and develop and maintain working relations with other key political leaders.
Public educator — Help citizens understand the city, its direction, goals, policies, programs and services.
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.