ZEPHYRHILLS — When voters go to the polls in April to choose a new mayor and fill three council seats, they will also decide whether to extend the terms of their elected officials from two to three years.
City Council members voted 4-1 Monday evening to add a referendum to the ballot, asking voters to add a third year to the council and mayor terms. The measure would also ask voters whether the council vice president should preside over meetings when the president is absent.
Council president Kenneth Compton voted against the measure, saying he did not favor changing the term length. Compton, who has served on the council since 2006, is running for re-election in April. He faces a challenge by Rose Hale, a downtown businesswoman.
Council vice president Lance Smith and council member Charlie Proctor are also hoping to retain their seats in the election. So far, they are unopposed. Danny Burgess, a former council member, is the lone candidate to finish the unexpired mayoral term of Steve Van Gorden, which ends in April 2014.
Van Gorden resigned from the post last month as the council prepared to hold an impeachment hearing to force him from office. Van Gorden quit his job as principal of Zephyrhills High School in November while being investigated for sexual harassment complaints.
The filing period for the April 9 election ends at noon Feb. 19.
Council members first discussed extending the office terms in June, reasoning that the longer terms can be staggered, so as to avoid the possibility of losing a majority of council members in one election.
Council member Jodi Wilkeson said she favors three-year staggered terms so that there will always be experienced members on the council.
For this election only, in order to initiate the staggering of terms, one of the three elected council members will serve a three-year term, while the other two will continue on the two-year plan. The three successful candidates will draw straws to determine who gets the three-year term, the council decided.
A public hearing and final vote on the ballot language will be held at the Feb. 11 council meeting.