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Dunedin voters to decide on numbered seats for commission

DUNEDIN — Along with deciding who will fill two City Commission seats, voters will decide March 11 whether to change how their leaders are elected.

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Currently, commissioners' terms are staggered so only two seats come up for election at a time. Voters pick their top two candidates, and the two candidates with the most votes win.

A ballot question will ask Dunedin voters if the city's charter should be amended to change to a numbered seating system. If approved, future candidates for the City Commission would run for specific seats.

This year, Vice Mayor Deborah Kynes and Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski are running for re-election. Also running is political newcomer Arnold "Tony" Scruton.

If the city had the proposed system of numbered commission seats, a candidate like Scruton would choose which incumbent to run against: Kynes or Bujalski. But the seats would still be at-large seats, meaning that voters citywide would cast ballots in each race.

Kynes and Commissioner Julie Scales voted against putting the charter amendment on the March 11 ballot. Bujalski, Commissioner Dave Eggers and Mayor Bob Hackworth voted to put the question to voters.

This is not the first time Dunedin officials have looked at changing the way commission candidates seek office.

In 2006, the city's Charter Review Committee voted 5-2 to keep the election system the way it is. Committee members weren't convinced that a system with numbered seats would be better than the city's current system, said chairman Bill Francisco.

"It's not that we we're afraid of change," Francisco said. "But if it's not going to do something positive, why are you doing to do it?"

Most committee members were concerned that changing to a numbered seating system could create a "negative campaign atmosphere," Francisco said. It could lead to more personal attacks in campaigns.

Kynes said she had the same concerns.

"It changes the dynamics," she said. "A candidate is no longer running for the commission. They are running against a specific incumbent."

But Eggers said changing to a numbered seating system would make each commissioner accountable for their performance.

"So when someone elects to run they can chose to run against my track record," he said.

The proposed change is minor and not as drastic as changing to a system in which districts were drawn, said retired University of Florida urban politics professor Bert Swanson. He said changing to a numbered seating system is a good step.

"It does introduce a little more accountability, and it tends to nourish the potential for challenge or for challengers," he said.

Scales said she voted against putting the charter amendment on the ballot because not enough systems were reviewed.

"My position was that if the concern was having a method that encouraged a higher voter turnout and encouraged more people to participate in elections, then I felt that all options should be reviewed instead of one cherry-picked," she said.

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at tel-khoury@sptimes.com or at (727) 445-4181.

.Fast facts

How to view a sample ballot

In addition to the question about changing to numbered City Commission seats, Dunedin voters will consider three other proposed charter amendments, all administrative in nature, on March 11.

For a sample ballot, visit www.voterfocus.com/hosting/pinellas/index.php?id=425 or go to www.votepinellas.com. Click on "Election Calendar" and then click on "March 11 Municipal Elections and Fire District Referendum." Click on "Dunedin."

Dunedin voters to decide on numbered seats for commission 02/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, February 29, 2008 9:15pm]
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