tampabay.com

Commission looking at proposal for at-large seats

Dunedin candidates would run for a specific seat possibly against a specific incumbent.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY
Published April 24, 2007


DUNEDIN - The City Commission could soon ask voters if they want to change how individual commissioners are elected to the board.

The commission directed the city staff at Thursday night's meeting to draft an ordinance for a ballot question that would switch the city's at-large system to one where members run for numbered at-large seats.

The present system staggers the commissioners' three-year terms so that two commission seats are open for each election and candidates vie to be one of the top two vote-getters in an election. Under the proposed change, candidates would file to run for a specific seat and possibly against a specific incumbent.

The commission will consider whether to act on the proposed ordinance at a later commission meeting.

Thursday's move, approved 3-2, came after lobbying by Mayor Bob Hackworth, who thinks the current system discourages political newcomers from taking on seasoned incumbents because they have to run citywide.

"That's a pretty tall task to take as a challenger," he said.

The commission's move comes despite a citizen committee's recommendation that the city keep its current system. The Charter Review Committee, appointed a year ago to review the city's charter, voted 5-2 to keep the unnumbered, at-large seats.

Bill Francisco, the chair of the Ordinance Review Committee, said he didn't see a positive difference by changing the current system. In fact, his research showed some downsides.

"Under the designated seats what we saw were campaigns that tended to be personality campaigns and personality attacks as opposed to issues," he said. "Essentially dirtier campaigns."

The citizen group also considered whether to:

-Move the city's March election to coincide with the general November elections.

-Add language to the city charter creating an interim city manager position when the position is vacated and the commission had yet to appoint a permanent city manager.

For each issue, the committee recommended that no changes be made to the current system. The City Commission took no action on those two issues.