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Zephyrhills mayor should have a vote

The position of Zephyrhills mayor is more glad-handing than governing. It is time to change the job description.

In its current incarnation, the mayoral post is strictly public relations, allowing an individual to collect a $3,600 annual stipend in exchange for acting as an ambassador for the city at public events. Though elected by voters, the mayor has no vote on city government matters.

A 1974 charter provision gives the mayor veto authority over council-approved ordinances, but nobody can recall that veto power ever being used. The authority is so obscure that current City Manager Steve Spina, a 13-year city employee, didn't know it existed.

And perhaps the most revealing testimonial to scrapping the mayor's job as it now exists is the decision by Mayor James Bailey to forgo another four-year term in favor of running for a City Council seat. Bailey said the job should stay as is, but he has also had enough of it.

Unfortunately, ribbon-cutting is more appealing than budget-cutting in Pasco's second largest city. An open City Council seat has drawn only Bailey as a candidate. But four people have announced their candidacies for mayor.

The idea to change the mayoral position is being floated by council member Timothy Ippolito. Out of deference to the current mayor, Ippolito didn't broach the subject until Bailey announced his intentions. Credit Ippolito with proper manners and appropriate government perspective.

"It's an accountability problem," said Ippolito. "The name of the position and the person in charge causes confusion."

Indeed. The council president, elected by his or her peers, acts as the city's chief executive. Council President Elizabeth Geiger runs the council meetings and signs the city's official correspondence. Bailey participates in council debates but is mum on votes.

Zephyrhills is the only Pasco city that has a mayor with no voting authority. Port Richey and New Port Richey mayors are elected by voters and act as one of five council members. Dade City, Saint Leo and San Antonio mayors are city council members, elevated by their peers. Either system is preferable to the current method in Zephyrhills.

Changing the job description will require a voter-approved charter change. Getting the question before the voters in time for the April election will require swift action to meet the supervisor of elections' Feb. 15 deadline to print ballots for absentee voters.

But this shouldn't be construed as an ill-advised rush job by the City Council. The public will have two months to debate the merit of the idea before casting ballots. And, if approved, the change would be effective in April 2001 at the earliest.

Changing the mayor's position from a ceremonial functionary and government observer into a serious leadership role accountable to the public is a worthwhile idea that should be embraced by the council and forwarded to the electorate for consideration.

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