If It's Broken, Fix It
Guest Columnist Robert S. Lemon, Jr.
Unless you avoid all social media you’ve probably seen a confusing e-mail blast titled Should Winter Park Have a Mayor? Perhaps you were as mystified by the click-bait as I was. Is Winter Park contemplating getting rid of the position of Mayor? Who would run the Commission meetings or light the Christmas tree?
Fear not. Winter Park will have a Mayor. But our Mayor’s responsibilities need to be better defined. Only once every ten years do we, as citizens, get a chance to do that. That’s when we review the City Charter, the document that defines our system of government.
Winter Park, along with 128 other Florida cities with a population over 10,000, has a “council-manager” form of government. According to the National League of Cities, in this form of government, the city council (in our case the Commission) makes policy, sets the budget and appoints a city manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city.
The City Charter also defines the role of Mayor. Most City Charters use language to specifically limit the Mayor’s additional powers to some version of the following.
Presides at meetings of the Commission
Recognized as head of government for ceremonial purposes
Recognized by the Governor for martial law
Signs deeds and other official government documents
The Winter Park City Charter’s language also suggests that the Mayor be granted the privilege of appointing the members of all city advisory boards. Only 10 Florida cities — fewer than 8 percent — have bestowed this power on their Mayors.
Advisory Board Appointments
Why have other Florida cities decided not to use their Charters to grant the Mayor the exclusive right to make board appointments? Perhaps because they recognize that opening the opportunity for board appointments to all Commissioners leads to better greater diversity of talent and ideas and, therefore, to better governance.
Think about it. Opening the process to all Commissioners will lead to:
More inclusive boards. Currently there is not one person of color on any of the citizen advisory boards. Serving on boards is often viewed as a path to elected office, where service on one or more advisory boards provides much needed experience to a new Commissioner.
More diverse opinions. The Commissioners rely on the advisory boards to help form policy. All Commissioners should have a seat at the table in the appointment process. Currently they can only vote up or down an entire slate of appointees, all chosen by the Mayor.
Tapping into more talent. As former Commissioner Phil Anderson wrote, “Winter Park is blessed with a vast pool of talent willing to serve on boards.” Yet unless qualified citizens who apply for appointments to boards belong to the right political camp, their applications may never even be acknowledged. While, at the same time, there is a fairly select group of people who, year after year, cycle from one board to another, to another.
If you agree that it is time for Winter Park to join the other Florida cities and strike the Mayor’s exclusive power for board appointments from our City Charter, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today.
It’s that simple. Just remove a single line from our Charter: “The mayor . . . shall annually appoint members of the city boards . . . .” And guess what – Winter Park will still have a Mayor.
At tomorrow’s Commission Meeting, the Commissioners will take up the discussion of City Charter revisions. They will decide which issues will appear on the March 17 ballot – and which ones won’t. The meeting begins at 3:30 pm at City Hall. It’s important to be there and make our voices heard.