By a 3-1 vote Tuesday, city commissioners tapped Rotary Club president Billy Keel to replace former Commissioner Dan Raulerson, who resigned two weeks ago to serve in the newly created state House District 58 seat.
Keel, 43, the owner of equipment supplier Matrix Medical, has served on the planning board for five years, a position he will relinquish because of his new City Commission job. Keel can retain his position, however, on the police and fire pension board.
"I'm very excited and looking forward to serving," he said after the vote.
Commissioner Rick Lott made the motion to appoint Keel, saying he was impressed by the lifelong Plant City resident's passion to serve the community. Keel's nomination, however, touched off a 15-minute debate.
When asked prior to the meeting, Keel was up front about his desire to serve on the commission and run in the upcoming general election in April.
Commissioner William Dodson seized on this, arguing that Keel's appointment could give him an unfair advantage over other candidates seeking to run.
"Now don't get me wrong. I think Mr. Keel would make a good city commissioner if elected in April 2013," Dodson said. "However, I don't think it's appropriate public policy for the City Commission to appoint an individual who intends to run for the open seat."
Dodson instead put forth the name of former state House representative and former City Commissioner Rich Glorioso, who according to Dodson had no desire to seek election to the commission in April.
"This type of approach to temporary appointments would avoid the appearance of favoritism," Dodson said.
His argument failed to gain traction, however.
Vice Mayor Mary Thomas Mathis, who backed Keel, responded, "I say when you have someone who wants to serve, let him serve."
Lott and Mayor Michael Sparkman also chimed in with support for Keel. Dodson was the lone dissenter.
Commissioners pushed for the appointment process in order to avoid the cost of back-to-back elections, including special elections, in the event a commissioner resigns before his term ends. Raulerson's term would have ended in June 2013. Special elections can cost the city about $15,000.
Voters, swayed by the fiscal arguments, backed a charter amendment last week to allow the appointments.
With the change, Keel will now be spared from running in a special election in January, but can run in the general election in April.
Keel's appointment was nearly immediate. He was sworn-in about an hour after the vote.
Commissioners earn a nominal salary of $7,668 a year.
In other business, commissioners voted to support the appointment of police Chief Bill McDaniel to the new position of assistant city manager. McDaniel will start that job in January.
Rich Shopes can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2454.