Instead of worrying about their own terms in office, the Zephyrhills City Council can better serve the public with a referendum on eliminating an irrelevant city office – mayor.
The current mayoral vacancy, left by the December resignation of Steve Van Gorden, presents the council with an opportune time to modernize its government. It chose not to do so a year ago, but shouldn't bypass this second chance.
The role of Zephyrhills mayor is largely ceremonial. The mayor does not run council meetings, cannot make motions and cannot vote on matters before council. The council president signs official city documents and chairs council meetings. The mayor serves in a $6,000-a-year ambassador's role that is a luxury in an era of downsized government.
A year ago, council members Charlie Proctor and Kent Compton sought a charter referendum on that very question to coincide with the retirement of long-time Mayor Cliff McDuffie. Their motion died 3-2. It was the second time a council majority has denied the electorate a chance to have its say. In 2005, a citizens charter review committee advocated eliminating the nonvoting mayoral position and elevating one of the five council seats to mayor – the system used in every other Pasco municipality. However, a council majority voted 3-2 not to ask the referendum question even though it scheduled 16 other ballot issues for the 2006 election.
Monday night would have been an appropriate time to reconsider the idea. Council members instead debated their own tenures in office and decided on an April ballot question of extending the council terms from two years to three. They can do better. Council members Jodi Wilkeson, Lance Smith or Ken Burgess should see to it that voters get asked a more imperative question: Does Zephyrhills need an elected mayor with no significant role to play in governing the city?
Burgess, whose nephew, Danny, has picked up papers to run for the mayoral vacancy, must be sure to make family considerations secondary to the public's. Wilkeson rationalized her vote last year by noting how busy McDuffie was as mayor. She should check again. Smith, not the mayor, now serves as the city representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and Van Gorden found time to be mayor, chamber of commerce president and high school principal. Smith, too, should re-evaluate the need for this superfluous position.
The current mayoral vacancy hasn't diminished municipal productivity and council should let voters decide if they want government efficiency extended to the City Hall dais.