Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Editorials

Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

A handful of influential business leaders are understandably frustrated with Clearwater’s failure to rejuvenate its downtown and eager to duplicate the rebirth of downtowns in Tampa and St. Petersburg. But they have focused on the wrong solution in seeking a new form of government. There is no compelling reason for Clearwater voters to switch to a strong mayor form of government, which is no magic fix and carries its own significant risks.

Clearwater has had a stable city manager form of government for nearly a century, and that is the rule rather than the exception in Florida. About two-thirds of the state’s municipalities have an elected city council and an appointed city manager who hires staff, presents a budget and runs the government on a daily basis. There should be nothing political about paving streets, operating parks or issuing building permits. It may not be headline-grabbing or glamorous, but it’s usually pretty efficient and effective.

While switching to a strong mayor has been discussed in Clearwater over the years, the idea hasn’t gotten real traction until this summer. A small group of business officials tied to the Clearwater Downtown Partnership prodded the City Council to put the issue on the November ballot. There was no groundswell of public support, and the council chose this route by just a 3-2 vote. In less than two summer months when many residents were pre-occupied with more leisurely pursuits, a task force worked with the city attorney to write a 14-page amendment to the city charter.

There are plenty of reasons for Clearwater voters to be skeptical about this sudden rush to transform city government. The process has moved too quickly, and the self-interest of several supporters who might be interested in being elected as a strong mayor is evident — including Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel and Brian Aungst Jr., a lawyer and community activist. Then there are the details in the proposed changes to ponder, such as adding a council member to replace the weak mayor and several new positions such as a budget analyst for the council.

Some proposed changes mirror the strong-mayor system in other cities, such as putting the city administrator in charge in situations where the mayor is disabled, absent or resigns. But other provisions are curious. Why is the description of the qualifications to be appointed city administrator so vague? Why is the minimum salary for the strong mayor set at $120,000 in the charter rather than allowing the City Council to decide?

Clearwater also has a unique concern: The Church of Scientology, the largest downtown property owner and a key impediment to attracting business and new investment. It’s not inconceivable that Scientology could find it easier to manipulate a strong mayor than a city manager and an entire city council. Supporters of the charter change say city voters would never stand for it, but Scientology could find a way to influence elections with lots of campaign cash that could be difficult to trace.

Having a strong mayor rather than a competent city manager and engaged city council does not guarantee a revitalized downtown or more efficient permitting. Results have been mixed in St. Petersburg since that city switched from the city manager form of government to a strong mayor 25 years ago. Elections have gotten more expensive, and last year’s nonpartisan mayoral election was particularly partisan.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, and he has succeeded in the city manager form of government. So has former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who also ran for governor. Clearwater will elect a new mayor and appoint a new city manager in 2020, and that is the moment for voters to decide what sort of leadership they want.

Clearwater voters should not be fooled by the misleading yard signs distributed by the political committee supporting the charter change. The signs urge support for term limits, but the city already has term limits. On the city charter amendment creating a strong mayor form of government, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voters in Clearwater vote no.

Comments
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/15/18
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

One justice on the Florida Supreme Court faces a merit retention vote in November, essentially an up-or-down vote of confidence allowing him to remain on the bench. Merit retention votes occur at least one year after the justice’s initial appo...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

The 2nd District Court of Appeal judges are on the Nov. 6 ballot for merit retention. Voters are being asked whether the appellate judges should be retained for another six-year term.Two pieces of information are helpful in deciding. First, the Flori...
Published: 10/11/18