The announced retirement of Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie presents the City Council with a new opportunity to answer an old question. Does the municipal government even need the largely ceremonial office of mayor?
Already a pair of candidates have obtained qualifying papers to succeed McDuffie in the April city election. However, the council would better serve the public by reconsidering an idea advocated by its citizens charter review committee in 2005 to eliminate the nonvoting mayoral position and elevate one of the five council seats to that title. It's a logical maneuver, particularly with cash-strapped local governments trying to save every penny possible. Doing away with the mayor's post saves the city a $4,800 annual salary.
More importantly, giving voters the final say will rectify a past council majority's heavy-handedness. Six years ago, on a 3-2 vote, the council declined to send to the voters a proposed charter change killing the mayor's position even though the same council authorized 16 other charter amendments for the 2006 ballot.
None of that three-person council majority remains in office today. However, a member of the review committee that recommended the amendment now sits on the council, Kenneth V. Compton. He should try to ensure voters are heard in 2012. That is particularly true in light of another largely forgotten amendment approved by voters in 2006 — a requirement that the charter be reviewed every five years. So far, the city has neglected that duty with only council member Charles Proctor trying unsuccessfully for a public debate on the charter.
Our position is no reflection on McDuffie, who performed admirably in the mayor's limited role. He represents Zephyrhills on the county's transportation planning organization and sits on the city's planning and zoning board. He also has used the bully pulpit to advocate for a better state road system, chided the council for setting a property tax rate he believed to be too low in 2009 and poked state legislators last year for their lack of oversight that resulted in the $48 million 1st District Court of Appeals building in Tallahassee. On occasion, McDuffie also exercised, or at least threatened to exercise, the one authority bestowed on the mayor by the city charter, the ability to veto city ordinances.
The mayor's job description, however, is mostly goodwill ambassador and glad-hander. The council president holds the gavel, runs council meetings and signs official paperwork. The mayor can participate in council debates, but cannot make motions and has no vote. It's a job that a past mayor found so unsatisfying he resigned to run for council.
The mayor's benign duties date to a 1974 charter that is in need of modernization. For voters to consider a charter amendment in the April municipal election, the city must provide ballot language to the Supervisor of Elections Office by Feb. 21. The council should do just that to let the electorate decide if the city needs to retain a mayor's position with virtually no authority.