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County plan for mayor abandoned

Published Oct. 16, 2005

After months of debate over whether the County Commission should push to change county government to include an elected mayor or executive, commissioners abandoned the idea in 35 minutes Thursday. Instead, the job of considering such a change will be left solely to the newly appointed 14-member Charter Review Board.

Although four of the seven commissioners said Thursday that they wanted to draw up a charter amendment for a county mayor in time for a November referendum, five votes are needed to put such an amendment on the ballot.

Realizing they didn't have enough support, proponents of the mayor idea agreed to leave it up to the charter board, which convenes every five years to study county government and propose changes.

Commissioners Jan Platt, Phyllis Busansky and Rubin Padgett said the charter board should be allowed to study the issues alone, without commissioners considering them at the same time.

"We've appointed 14 very intelligent citizensIt would seem to make it difficult for them to be dealing with some of the issues (while) we deal with them on a parallel basis," Platt said.

Some people had worried that the commission and the charter board would have put forth competing charter changes on the same ballot.

But other commissioners said the mayor issue deserved quicker attention than the charter board might give because the board has a year to complete its studies.

The sooner the issue is put to a referendum, said Commissioner Pam Iorio, "it would be better for the entire community. I think this issue is crucial."

Supporters of the mayor plan did win one battle. They passed a motion 4-3 requesting the charter board to expedite its consideration of the mayor issue, with the hope of making a decision in time to put a measure on the November ballot.

But Iorio, who made the motion, acknowledged that time constraints make chances doubtful. County Attorney Fred Karl explained that any charter change for the November ballot would need to be ready within a few months to provide time for the U.S. Justice Department to ensure that the change doesn't dilute minority voting rights.

Any amendments proposed by the charter board must appear on a general election ballot. If the group misses this year's election, the next chance would be in 1992.

Some commissioners said a delay in putting the mayor issue to the voters could cause a backlash from residents in communities such as Brandon. Brandon has considered incorporating to get more responsive government, and some commissioners believe the chance for a county mayor might satisfy residents there.

Commissioners first decided to consider the mayor issue in December, after a report from their Governance Review Committee, formed in part because of the dissatisfaction in Brandon.

Padgett originally was one of five commissioners who voted for a workshop to take a closer look at a mayor or executive form of government.

But he said Thursday that he wanted the work session to get answers about how the proposed change might affect minority voting power. He believes the charter board, which includes two black members he appointed, will do a fairer job of representing the interests of the entire community as it studies government.