Largo Commission in Complicated Talks Over Changing Terms
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The City Commission is currently engaged in a great civil discussion testing whether the commission members will have four-year terms and how this transition can be accomplished.
It is tricky, complicated, arcane and tiresome, despite the best efforts of Alan Zimmet, the outsourced legal officer for the city, who played the role of moderator last week as the commission begin the discussion.
The talking went on for 50 confusing and head scratching minutes as commissioners tried to figure out the complications of maneuvering around seven different terms allotted to four years each with the goal of avoiding elections in odd numbered years.
That goal is because of cost, which can be up to $70,000 for Largo as it was last November to fill one seat. Holding one more election (2011) in a non-countywide election year seems unavoidable.
As is the case with such things, everyone, it seems, had an idea of how the transition could be arranged. Zimmet came up with three workable options. But a welter of questions further confused the issue.
To complicate it even farther, what appears on the ballot to bring about the desired result must be no longer than 75 words and there is an ineluctable deadline for that in mid-July because the referendum language has to be the in the hands of the Supervisor of Elections by August 3.
So it was back to the drawing board for Zimmet who has to come up with some concise and workable language that commission members will accept. He is well capable of that.
Reference is made to the commission by seat numbers. Voters don't always relate the names that way. Here is the seat number/person lineup - Seat 1, Mary Black; Seat 2, Bob Murray; Seat 3, Curtis Holmes; Seat 4, Gigi Arntzen; Seat 5, Harriet Crozier; Seat 6, Woody Brown. The mayor, Pat Gerard, sits in the middle and presides.
The scheme of election for three-year terms has gone like this up to now - Seats 1 and 2, elected 2008, up in 2011; Seats 3,4 and mayor, elected 2009, up in 2012; Seats 5 and 6, elected 2007, up this year (2010).
The transition problem was solved by this writer here a couple of weeks ago when Commissioner Mary Black first came up with the idea.
It went this way -
Seats 5 and 6 come up this year for three-year terms, before the referendum has passed; but if the referendum does pass, then a year is added to the terms, by ordinance. Seats 1 and 2 come up in 2011, they would get a three-year term, to 2014; mayor and seats 3 and 4 come up in 2012, they would get a four-year term to 2016.
Thus, four seats would be elected in 2014, and three seats elected in 2016, and it would go from there in every even numbered year.
So what's the problem?
One sticking point is that many have individual ideas and it is the devil's own conundrum to make them mesh, make a workable solution and thus have everyone close to some sort of modicum of happiness.
The reality is, that for seven commission members, money is at stake. And don't ever believe they don't want to collect those pay checks and a very big collateral benefit. Some depend on that money; it is of maximum importance.
One can determine what the top priority of some members of the City Commission is by noting how much time they spend on this subject of switching to four-year terms (no one, by the way, has expressed opposition to the idea).
Make no mistake about it. The elected folks in Largo get paid well. Over the years, many of the commission people have tried to shrug off what they get as chump change.
The mayor is paid $19,688.19 (that's at least $400 or so a meeting); commission members collect $13,125.46, which figures about $275 a meeting. On top of that, each member gets $7,440 in personal insurance (medical) credits. So add that and you have the mayor at $27,128.19 (almost $600 a meeting) and commission members at $20,565.46 (about $430 a meeting).
Those who have insurance in another way, say, at their place of work, the credit still inures to them builds up over the years and a total sum is collected when the person leaves office.
For example, someone who has been on the commission for something like 10 years and has not used the city insurance benefit would collect in one gob something like a windfall well over $50,000.
So getting into the minutia of selecting a formula to switch from three years to four years becomes important - somebody or another doesn't want to get screwed out of a year's worth of city money.
Zimmet bore up with infinite patience over the drawn out discussion in which every new set of words seemed to trigger more confusion. But tempers were level and at one point, there was a big of waggishness when Holmes suggested abolishing the charter and establishing a monarchy. The mayor went along with that in good humor - "I could be the queen of Gerardiana."
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