When three new city commissioners are sworn into office in May, they will make the City Commission the least-experienced council in recent history.
It has been an unofficial tradition that the current vice mayor be appointed mayor the following year.
Tradition also holds that the mayor be one of the more experienced commissioners.
But this year, the two elder statesmen of the commission, Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Terry Turner, are in the middle of their first term and will only have two more years in office than the three brand-new commissioners taking their seats in the commission chambers May 13.
When Paul Caragiulo, Shannon Snyder and the winner of the runoff between Willie Shaw and Linda Holland are sworn in, it will mark the first time since 1985 that three new commissioners have been elected.
However, that year the other two commissioners had a combined 15 years in office.
So, who has the best chance of becoming mayor?
According to the sitting commissioners and commissioners-elect, it will probably be one of the two with the most experience.
“I think a sitting commissioner is more likely,” said Commissioner-elect Shannon Snyder. “That’s just tradition.”
“The job of commissioner is much more complicated than most people realize,” he said. “The mayor should be the person with the most experience.”
That does not mean, however, that Turner is necessarily seeking the job.
“It’s not something I ever coveted, but I will feel an obligation to do it if the commission appoints me,” said Turner. “I ran for office, and the voters elected me to do a job.”
The at-large commissioner supported outgoing Commissioner Dick Clapp for re-election, because he wanted Clapp to be mayor.
“I thought he did a good job, and he had four years of experience,” Turner said.
Caragiulo narrowly defeated Clapp in District 2.
Atwell said she would welcome the appointment.
“It would be an honor to serve as mayor,” she said. “Commissioners with a couple of years under their belts may be better suited. I’ve built up a knowledge base, and I think I’m ready to lead as an upperclassman.”
Having a first-year commissioner be named mayor is not unheard of in Sarasota, but it is rare (see box).
Whenever a sitting commissioner has been passed over, said Snyder, there’s been a reason. And he doesn’t see any reason why either Atwell or Turner could not serve as mayor.
But none of the commissioners-elect believes that someone newly elected could not perform the job of mayor.
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t vote for someone new,” said Caragiulo. “I don’t think experience is as important as leadership qualities.”
The District 2 commissioner-elect was quick to point out, though, that he does not want to be mayor this year.
Caragiulo believes Atwell has the best chance of appointment.
“She’s got experience, and I’ve heard some political chatter about it in the past week,” he said.
Of the potential incoming commissioners, Holland believes Snyder or Caragiulo would be best suited for the position of mayor, because of their extensive time serving on city advisory boards.
“It’s important the (mayor) can conduct the meetings properly, knowing the role of the chairman, even if (that knowledge) comes from other boards,” she said.
If she wins the runoff, Holland said she does not want to be named mayor.
“Even with as much experience as I have (on advisory boards), I would feel less comfort presiding over the commission until I served a little longer,” she said.
Shaw could not be reached for comment.
All speculation will end May 13, when Caragiulo, Snyder and the winner of the District 1 runoff are sworn in, and the new commission votes for mayor.
Since the current council/manager form of government was adopted in 1945, only four times has a new commissioner become mayor in his first year.
The first time was that first meeting, when all the commissioners were new, and 1957 was the last time it occurred.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected]