CLEARWATER — After years of debate among city officials, Clearwater voters will decide whether to use a runoff system for City Council races and change the date of elections to make the new structure possible.
The council on Wednesday voted 4-1 to place a referendum on the March 19 ballot asking whether the city should have runoffs for the top two vote-getters in a race if no candidate earns more than 50%. Under the current winner-take-all system, the candidate who gets a plurality of votes for a council seat wins the race with no further votes taken.
The referendum would also change Clearwater’s election dates from March of even-numbered years to August beginning in 2026 to coincide with state and national primaries. Runoffs would be held in November with general elections.
Council member Kathleen Beckman voted against the change. She has said in previous council meetings that runoffs would make local campaigns more expensive and hinder lower-income candidates who don’t have connections to high-dollar donors.
Although council member Mark Bunker previously opposed the idea and also worried about the influence of money from “the establishment” in runoffs, he said Wednesday he would not stand in the way of the referendum.
“I think the voters should have the option to give an answer on this,” Bunker said.
Mayor Brian Aungst Sr. introduced the runoff idea in September, saying that council members should serve in office only after earning a clear mandate from voters. He said the concept has long been discussed in Clearwater, and with more crowded races in recent years, now is the time to put the question to voters.
In the last two elections, three to five candidates have run for council seats, resulting in some candidates winning their races with less than 50% of votes. In 2020, Bunker won his five-way race for Seat 2 with 27% and Beckman won her four-way race for Seat 3 with almost 49%. Last year, council member Lina Teixeira won with 44% in her three-way race for Seat 5.
If the referendum passes, the terms of Teixeira and council member David Allbritton, which were supposed to expire in March 2026, will be extended to November 2026 to avoid long-term vacancies, said City Attorney David Margolis.
The candidates who are elected to three council seats in the March 19 election will serve terms through November 2028 to get the seats aligned to the new system.
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