DUNEDIN — Ask people here which symbols represent their town, and several contenders quickly emerge: Scottish heritage. Beer. Baseball. Dogs.
The southern magnolia tree?
A mini-controversy erupted at City Hall Thursday night as commissioners considered a citizen advisory board's request that the city name the southern magnolia the official tree of Dunedin, along with naming the osprey the official bird and the magnolia bloom the city flower.
The City Commission approved all three items in a 4-1 vote, but not before the panel and a resident spent 20 minutes debating whether the orange tree is a better choice for Dunedin and whether the discussion should be delayed as many as three months to gather public input.
"This isn't an earth-shattering decision but I think it's important. People want to weigh in on it," said Mayor Dave Eggers, the lone dissenter. "I would like to not have to vote on it tonight, but if we're going to have to, I won't support it."
The conversation was jump-started in 2009 by the Committee on Environmental Quality. The volunteer members objected to the 1968 designation of the bauhinia as Dunedin's official tree because it's not native to Florida and is also an invasive species that violates Dunedin's tree ordinance. They also suggested naming an official flower and bird.
The issue was recently revived by city staffers, whose research included gathering input from the Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee, Clearwater Audubon Society and Dunedin Garden Club. Each agreed with the magnolia tree, magnolia bloom and osprey, except for the Bay Bouquet Garden Club, which preferred the black-eyed susan for the city flower.
Clutching a homemade sign Thursday bearing a picture of an orange, Jennifer Lumm of Albert Street told commissioners she and many of her friends didn't know about that night's vote until she read a press report the day before. There wasn't any information on city commissioners' or the city's Facebook pages.
"We don't have anything against the magnolia tree," Lumm said. "We just don't think it's a representation of Dunedin. It's a representation of the deep south and we don't think that's the culture of Dunedin. ... It just seemed logical to the general public that the orange was the symbol that already represented us as a group."
Recalling backlash from residents who felt they weren't given an adequate chance to weigh in on Dunedin's branding campaign, Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski initially asked to delay a decision by 30 days. Eggers suggested two or three months.
"Who knew this issue was something people would really want to be involved in? I say let's give them the opportunity," Bujalski said.
However, Commissioners Julie Scales, Heather Gracy and Ron Barnette said multiple groups with expertise in the area had already weighed in.
Citrus trees, Scales noted, are of Asian origin. And the tree naming issue, she said, had already lingered for years and environmental committee members wanted a decision in time for this weekend's Earth Day celebrations.
Bujalski begrudgingly sided with the majority. But Eggers, who approved of the bird and flower recommendations, said he saw no need to rush on a decision that had already waited years.
"I'm sorry we didn't get more input on this," he said after the vote. "Shame on us."
Still, there might be another chance for the public to speak up.
After the vote, Barnette pointed at the city seal hanging on the wall behind the dais. With a mischievous gleam in his eye, he asked whether the city should also think about changing the egret on the seal to an osprey "to be consistent."
"Well, if we would hear from folks," Eggers said, "we might do that."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153.