ST. PETE BEACH — Mayor Marie Lowe is resigning, effective at the end of the month, in order to accompany her family to Paris where her husband is starting a new job.
The City Commission is expected to quickly appoint an interim mayor, but no decision has been made about whether a special election will be held in November or whether the city will permanently fill the post in the regular March municipal election.
Until a successor is appointed or elected, Vice Mayor Rick Falkenstein will serve as mayor.
Lowe's term would have expired in March, so it is likely the commission would wait until then instead of incurring the expense of an earlier election. In the latter case, the winning candidate would serve only a few months until the March election.
According to the city charter, the mayor is considered a commissioner and is replaced in the same way as other commission vacancies, even though the seat is elected citywide and lasts for three years. Commissioners are elected by district and serve for two years.
Normally, the commission appoints an interim successor who serves until the next regular election, provided the election occurs within six months of the vacancy.
In that scenario, the winner of that election serves either the remainder of the unexpired term or, if the seat would have expired anyway, start a new term.
But because Lowe's normal term has more than eight months but less than a year to run before the March election, it is unclear whether the charter requires an earlier special election or will allow the commission to wait until March to permanently fill the mayoral seat.
It is likely the commission will discuss options at its Tuesday meeting.
Lowe, 39, said she had not planned to resign until at least September, but her husband, Gerald, and their son, Gabriel, need to be in Europe earlier than expected in order to start both job and school.
Her husband has been appointed deputy director of the American Battle Monument Commission and their son is entering the eighth grade.
"I will go through a grieving period after moving," Lowe said. "I have mixed emotions about leaving the city."
The Lowes will not be selling their house, however, and Lowe said she will return at least once a quarter to meet with her University of South Florida business administration doctoral program adviser.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, her longtime friend who had persuaded Lowe to run for mayor, said she is sad to see Lowe leave, but happy that she is "getting her friend back."
Because they have both served on the commission for the past two years, they have been unable to meet or speak very often for fear of violating the state's Sunshine Law, Pletcher said.
Fellow commissioner Terri Finnerty said she will miss Lowe, as well.
"She has been just tremendous for the city," Finnerty said. "She has been a linchpin for all of us and done a spectacular job."
Finnerty and Lowe did clash periodically over issues, but never let it damage their professional relationship.
"We agreed to disagree," Finnerty said.