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Serving two masters?

A loophole lets the Seminole mayor keep her job even though she has resigned to run for the House.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published July 2, 2006


SEMINOLE - When the City Council next convenes, Mayor Dottie Reeder will preside. That wouldn't be so unusual if she hadn't resigned Tuesday to run for the state House.

How did Reeder manage to resign and remain the mayor all at the same time?

It's the way the state law is written. It says candidates have to resign no later than 10 days before the qualifying date, but the resignation does not have to be effective until later. In Reeder's case, that will be Election Day, Nov. 7.

Many candidates have done exactly what Reeder is doing and it's clearly legal. But two of Reeder's opponents for the District 51 seat are questioning her decision to remain in office after resigning.

"The citizens voted for her to serve them as mayor, not as a candidate for higher office. If she wants to run for another office she should resign completely, not wait till after the election to leave," said Bruce Cotton, one of her opponents in the Republican primary.

"To stay in that position is a disservice to the people of Seminole who elected her to be mayor, and I believe it could be seen as a conflict of interest that the citizens should be concerned about," Cotton said.

Janet Long, who is running for the Democratic nomination for District 51, was on the Seminole City Council when she decided to seek higher office. She could have tried to keep her seat and then resigned Nov. 7, but instead, she said, she decided not to seek re-election and to campaign full time.

"For me personally it was an ethics issue. I didn't feel I could serve two masters," Long said.

Remaining in office after resigning, she said, gives Reeder an easy way to stay in the public eye.

"It's a good example of having your cake and eating it, too," Long said. "Either you're the mayor or the candidate, what are you?"

Reeder said she sees nothing wrong with retaining her office as long as possible.

She said she feels an obligation to the voters who put her there. This way, she said, she will serve all but four months of her term.

She also disagreed that it will split her time. During her 11½-year tenure as mayor, she has also held down a full-time job. The mayor's position is part time. And, should she win the primary, Reeder said she will take a leave of absence from her job as health and welfare coordinator for BayCare Health Systems.

"Most candidates do this," Reeder said. "I feel very comfortable that I'm able to fulfill all my obligations to my constituency that I have in the past."

Once Reeder does step down, Vice Mayor Dan Hester will take the helm. Hester, who is the treasurer for Reeder's campaign, will run things for 30 days to give the council a chance to appoint a successor. That successor could be one of the six council members or someone from outside who would reside until the next city election in March.

Long and Cotton said Reeder's decision could come back to bite her. If the issues in Seminole get tough, Reeder could well turn off some voters.

They also acknowledged that Reeder didn't invent the practice.

"Just about every public official in the state ... uses that little loophole in the law," Cotton said. "It's just the way the game is played."