Mayor Lee Rothenberg, who was scheduled to vacate office in March 2010 after serving the end of his three terms in office, now has new political life.
The commission approved by a 5-2 vote at its Dec. 7 regular meeting a resolution that allows commissioners to serve three- consecutive, two-year terms, plus any time served as a partial term limit for being appointed.
Rothenberg, who was elected to fill a partial term in October 2004, will have served five years and five months in office this March.
The mayor confirmed to The Longboat Observer he intends to run again for his District 1 seat against fellow Country Club Shores resident Lee Pokoik. Country Club Shores resident Lynn Larson and L’Ambiance resident Bob White are also contemplating runs for the District 1 seat.
The resolution was debated and contested, however, by Commissioners George Spoll and Jim Brown, who were the only opponents on the dais to protest the partial-term revision and dispute the fact that the mayor was allowed to vote for a resolution that directly benefited him.
Brown disagreed with Town Attorney David Persson’s legal opinion that Rothenberg could vote on the resolution. Brown said there was a conflict of interest.
Spoll passed out a red flyer to the approximately 50 people in the audience, which stated that Rothenberg, if re-elected this March, would be eligible to serve four terms, or seven years and five months of service, or nearly 125% of the six-year limitation imposed by the town charter.
By comparison, Spoll said that he and Commissioner Peter O’Connor, who both also filled partial terms, will serve six years and a couple of extra months, or approximately 104% of the six-year term limitation.
“Passing this allows a new commissioner to serve almost eight years, which is clearly not the intent of citizens who voted for a maximum of six years in office,” Spoll said.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the town charter does not state that commissioners are called upon to serve a maximum of three two-year terms. That clarification was made as another resolution to the charter years ago.
Town Clerk Trish Granger said the commission did not amend the town charter Monday night.
What the commission did, according to Persson, is attempt to clarify what some commissioners perceived as insufficient or vague charter language with respect to term limits.
Before the resolution, the charter read: “No elector shall serve more than three consecutive terms as commissioner without an interval of one complete term out of office.”
“You are being called upon tonight to clarify what those words mean,” Persson said.
But Spoll said the wording is clear, and because it’s the intent of the voters that commissioners run for a maximum of six years, the commission has the right to interpret the charter that way.
Rothenberg, however, defended the new resolution.
“If I don’t run, I get five years in office,” Rothenberg said. “If I do run and get elected, I get seven years … so I do see it as an element of fairness in connection with me.”
Rothenberg’s potential candidates for the District 1 seat strongly disagreed.
“I welcome the competition because I think I can beat him,” Pokoik said. “But you have to cut the line somewhere.”
And Larson, who has supervised past elections as a volunteer at Town Hall, disputed the town attorney’s decision to allow the mayor to vote on the resolution.
Said Larson: “It’s morally wrong for you to vote on an issue that affects you and your terms.”
Spoll believes that because there is still disagreement among commissioners on what the charter means in regard to term limits, the town should let the voters decide the issue.
“This resolution was an attempt to manipulate this upcoming election,” Spoll said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.
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