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Mayor would slash his own position

If Mayor Ron Kitchen had his way, the City Council would eliminate his position as part of its charter review this year.

Shrinking the government was just one of the considerations the mayor posed to council members during his State of the City address Monday night. Boosting City Council pay, holding the media accountable and creating new ways to get citizens' advice were among the others.

"This year our intent will be to stay focused on the issues and not on the personalities," Kitchen said during his 30-minute speech.

High on Kitchen's list is a proposal he first made as a council member in the late 1990s: Reduce the number of elected officials in Crystal River from six to five. The change, he said, would increase efficiency and eradicate the vagueness of the mayor's job description.

Voters would elect five council members, including a chairman who would take on mayoral duties for the city.

If the change was made, Kitchen said, council members also should consider giving themselves a raise. He suggested an annual salary of $12,000, accompanied by the elimination of travel expense funds.

Council members currently make $5,428 a year and budget additional money for travel.

Kitchen also proposed creating a conservation foundation to focus on the waters of Crystal River. The private-public entity would be led by a paid executive who would coordinate volunteers working to improve the quality of Kings Bay and Crystal River.

Such an organization could make a difference in the work various groups already are doing, the mayor said.

"If they were unified, they could really magnify their efforts," he said.

To help the council with its budget process, Kitchen suggested instituting community action request plans that would allow neighborhoods to approach elected officials with their desires for improvements and changes. That way, some of the guessing game would be eliminated for the council.

The mayor praised his colleagues for seeking "stability, unity and accountability" in city government _ goals he said they should continue to aim for during this election year. One way to accomplish them, Kitchen said, would be to keep supporting City Manager Susan Boyer.

"Regardless of what happens with the council, I think the No. 1 priority is the manager must stay," he said. "I think what we have done is to eliminate a lot of that instability that comes with a change in management."

Another way would be to support annexation, he said. Kitchen said the opportunity to annex more than 500 acres south of the city was one that may not come again.

It should be pursued with a cooperative attitude from the city's businesses and residents, despite the criticisms that have come from opinion writers at local newspapers, Kitchen said. He pledged to start asking editorial writers to back what he called "unsubstantiated accusations."

"We can't be distracted, and we can't be brought down by all these negative, outside influences," Kitchen said. "If the city gives itself a black eye, then it deserves a black eye. (But) if the city is working hard to do a good job, it needs to be recognized for that. I don't intend to sit by and let good people be maligned."

In other meeting news, the council voted 5-0 on the first reading of an ordinance that will remove the current code enforcement board and establish a code enforcement hearing officer to take its place. Boyer said she and City Attorney David LaCroix would begin looking for an attorney to recommend as the hearing officer for the city.

This person would work with the city's new code enforcement officer, who began working last week, Boyer said.

The council also passed unanimously on first reading an amended sign ordinance that will allow property owners to fly a maximum of three flags totaling no more than 54 square feet.

LaCroix told council members earlier this month that the city's sign ordinance allowing for only American, state, city or prisoner of war flags was unconstitutional. By naming what types of flags could be flown, the city was restricting free speech, the attorney said.

Under the new ordinance, any three noncommercial flags can be flown. Businesses that currently fly noncommercial flags exceeding this limit will be allowed to keep them up for 10 years.

Council members got yet another revised annexation map from the city attorney. More properties have been added to the proposed annexation area, including Playhouse 19 to the east of U.S. 19 and Progress Energy property on Venable Street.

One recently added property _ Crystal Inn _ was deleted after city officials learned an inn manager lived there.

"We did not want to find out at the last minute that there was one registered voter living in the area annexed, so that the fate of the annexation depended on a "referendum' vote of one person," LaCroix wrote to council members in a memo.

The additional properties raise the potential annual tax revenue from the annexation to $155,358, according to the revised annexation report.

_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.

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