Officials will appoint former commissioner Dan Raulerson's replacement, rather than hold a special election, after voters Tuesday approved a referendum to amend the city's charter.
The amendment passed with 59 percent of the 11,143 votes.
Mayor Michael Sparkman said voters opted for fiscal responsibility in backing the amendment. The change allows officials to appoint replacements when commissioners resign with fewer than 15 months of their 3-year terms remaining.
"By doing it this way the city will see about $15,000 in savings," Sparkman said.
The issue came to light in June when Raulerson qualified to run for the newly created state House District 58 seat, even though his term on the five-member City Commission wasn't due to expire until June 2013.
Under the charter, officials would have been required to appoint Raulerson's successor until a special election in January. Then, four months later, turn around and hold a general election in April.
Commissioners complained the quick turnaround would burden Raulerson's replacement and prove costly to the city, which would pay for the elections.
Several Florida cities, including Tampa, already allow appointments to alleviate costs and the strain of back-to-back campaigns. Political pundits are divided on the issue, with some arguing appointments circumvent the Democratic process. Others see appointments as fine provided the general election is less than a year or so away.
Sparkman noted the practice is becoming common as Florida cities look to hold down costs, and only rarely do commissioners resign before their terms expire.
"This has only been done three times that I can remember since I've been on the commission," said Sparkman, who's served 23 years.
Raulerson's successor may not be known for weeks. Sparkman said he'll call a special commission meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss how to move forward. Commissioners may already have potential replacements in mind or opt to solicit applicants for the position, which pays $7,668 a year.
Among those interested is Billy Keel, owner of equipment supplier Matrix Medical and the president of the Plant City Rotary Club.
"Am I interested in serving on the City Commission at some point? Yes," said Keel, 43, who grew up in Plant City. "I've been active in the city for many years and I care a great deal about this community. It's something I've always been interested in."
Keel currently serves on the city's planning board and pension board.
Rich Shopes can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2454.