If It's Broken, Fix ItEditor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
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.
Re: Mayor’s Board Appointments (Charter Review Recommendation)
My first appointments with Winter Park were the Public Works Advisory Board and the Storm Board of Appeals (1998 -2004). I chaired the Public Works Advisory Board and worked with then-Assistant City Manager Randy Knight to recommend the City purchase and operate electric infrastructure. What a success that has been, but it was very controversial at the time. Over the years, I continued serving on numerous city boards (Lakes and Waterways, Transportation Task Force, etc). In 2004 I initiated and chaired the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Board. I also chaired the MetroPlan Orlando’s Board for bicycle and pedestrian issues. In 2016 I applied for the Winter Park Transportation Advisory Board and thought that my knowledge and extensive experience would qualify me for a seat at the table, but it didn’t. I had actively supported an opponent of the Mayor in 2015. For the first time, I was shut out of a Winter Park board appointment.
The Charter rule for board appointments has not changed, but the practice has dramatically changed. In the past, appointments had resulted in a good cross-section of our community as the mayor would solicit and honor each commissioner’s suggestions. In the past, commissioners were given copies of board applications to review and make suggestions to the mayor. However, that is no longer the case. Board appointments come only from the mayor, who has not solicited suggestions from the commissioners. The four commissioners, who must approve the mayor’s recommendations, have been effectively shut out.
Changing this Charter element to put it in line with historical practice will improve governance of our City. Giving the mayor sole appointment authority has become bad for our city.
Honorable Mayor and Commissioners,
Since I am out of town and unable to attend the public meeting I write to request that as you consider possible revisions our Winter Park City Charter you will make revisions to accommodate a change to the method of appointing members of citizen volunteer boards.
For years this has been a jealously guarded privilege of those serving as Mayor. While commissioners are free to recommend candidates for vacancies, under the current practice the mayor is free to ignore their nominees and load the boards with individuals mirroring her/his political priorities and perspectives. Hence, the current practice deprives us of diverse talent, experience and perspectives where vigorous debate can foster superior long-term outcomes.
I believe that it is in the best interest of incorporating diverse viewpoints in our civic discourse that each commissioner should be able to have a vote to determine who sits on our boards. I am certain that a process can be developed to simplify the task so that it is manageable. Certainly other communities have devised them. Perhaps the Florida League of Cities might have some recommendations.
Changing this practice should foster a greater trust and harmony among us at a time when this is most sorely needed.
Thank you for your consideration.
Pamela A. Peters
Former Winter Park City Commissioner
Former Member (and Chair) Board of Zoning Adjustments
Whenever politicians present proposed changes to the City Charter, the smart thing for residents to ask is, “Do these changes give the residents more power or less power to affect the actions of their City government?”
Unfortunately, the City has not yet provided the residents with ALL the proposed Charter changes – only those changes recommended by the Charter Review Board.
The City Commission, may, and likely will, propose ADDITIONAL changes at the 11th hour, while residents are still focused on the Board’s recommendations.
Suffice to say, what the Charter Review Board has proposed DOES NOT provide any more power to the residents, and appears to REMOVE some existing powers from residents.
For example, the Board recommends that THREE Commissioners can remove the other TWO commissioners from office for any reason the THREE vote is reasonable cause from removal from office.
If the TWO were elected by the residents, this change effectively gives a majority of the City Commission the authority to oust the residents’ elected commissioners and replace them with the majority commissioners candidates.
Another question for residents to ask is “What’s missing from this picture?”
The trick of these Charter change games is to get residents focused on the proposed changes, so that they never notice “what’s missing.”
The way City board members are selected is but one thing that is missing. And there may be ways to give the residents even more power than what The Voice article proposes.
The Voice has an editorial bias of tending to give the benefit of the doubt that Winter Park residents election votes are being counted accurately. But if it comes to a point when they are not, why should residents give their Board seats to Commissioners they didn’t elect?
There are many, many more things that could be changed about the City Charter that would ensure that the City Commission operate in a more representative fashion.
To make this short, there is one change the residents would fight for if they are serious about ever holding the reins of power in Winter Park:
Expand the City Charter powers for resident PETITIONS.
When over 2,000 residents sign a petition, like they did to prevent the Canopy from being built in MLK Park, and the Canopy gets built in MLK Park anyway, it shows that the residents are powerless under the existing Charter.
PETITION is also the only way residents can assure they hold the power — not those who count their ballots.
PETITION, to replace election, for recall of Commissioners, would be enough to send any Commissioner not inclined to represent the residents looking for another City to ride herd over.
PETITION to overturn City Commission actions would tie a bow around the Charter so that residents gained control of their City.
But if residents indicate they will be satisfied with only the crumbs of City power for the next 10 years — that’s when the next Charter Review will be taken up — crumbs is all they will get.