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    Tarpon considers term-limit change

    Commissioners discuss adjusting rules for mayoral runs and raising the number of votes needed to oust a city manager.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 27, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- City commissioners are considering asking voters to decide whether term limits should be changed to eliminate a three-year waiting period that some commissioners now must observe before running for mayor.

    The commission also could ask voters whether it should take a super-majority -- four of the five commissioners -- of the commission to remove the city manager.

    Commissioners said Tuesday night they would be willing to ask voters to decide whether a commissioner can serve two terms, then run immediately for mayor. Commissioner Beverley Billiris brought up the issue at the meeting but said she was not doing so in her own interest, even though such a change could affect her and no one else in the city in the next mayoral election.

    "I don't believe it is self-serving," said Billiris, who began her second term this year. "I have not made a decision whether or not I will run for mayor if this passes."

    Commissioners discussed the issue Tuesday but did not vote. If they decide to put it on the March election ballot, voters would decide whether commissioners whose terms run concurrently with the mayor's term could immediately run for mayor after serving two commission terms.

    The mayor and four commissioners all serve three-year terms, but those terms are staggered. Two commissioners, Billiris and Karen Brayboy, serve terms concurrently with the mayor, while two -- Cindy Sanner and Jim Archer -- serve terms that come up the following year. The proposed change would not affect Brayboy the same way it could affect Billiris during the next election because Brayboy is serving her first term on the commission.

    The result is that the city's term limits require commissioners whose terms do not match the mayor's to step down for a year after serving two terms before being eligible to run for mayor or for another commission seat. Those commissioners who serve terms at the same time as the mayor and have served two terms have to wait three years for the next mayoral election.

    In the past, voters have defeated referendum items eliminating term limits. But Billiris pointed out that this is different because it is limited to a specific set of circumstances instead of term limits on the whole.

    "I feel . . . this should be left up to the people," she said.

    Mayor Frank DiDonato said he does not support term limits and would back a referendum item for the March election.

    "I don't have any problem with the people making that decision," DiDonato said.

    Commissioners also said they would support a referendum item asking voters if it should take at least four of the commission's five votes to remove the city manager. Currently, it takes a simple majority of three commissioners to fire the city manager.

    Billiris said the super-majority would help to ensure a stable government and would lessen the likelihood that a city manager could be dismissed because of political differences with a few commissioners.

    The other commissioners said they would support the issue being put on the March ballot, although Brayboy said she does not know if a super-majority is the best idea.

    "I understand the issue of continuity," she said. But, she said, "a city manager could theoretically make only two commissioners happy and keep their job. . . . The majority of the commission could be unhappy with them, and you'd be unable to get rid of them."

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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