A group of local residents, including businessman Gregory Fancelli, have hired an attorney and a public relations firm in an effort to change the City of Lakeland to a strong-mayor form of government.
If that should happen, writes John Chambliss of the Lakeland Ledger, Fancelli would not be opposed to Republican former state Sen. Paula Dockery becoming the city’s first strong mayor.
“She’s a charismatic, good leader,” said Chambliss, who is the grandson of Publix founder George Jenkins.
However, Dockery told the Ledger that she has no current plans to run if residents approve a new charter.
“I am probably not going to be running for anything anytime soon,” said Dockery, a former candidate for governor. “I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.”
After serving 16 years in the Florida Legislature, Dockery now pens a syndicated column running in 22 newspapers statewide, including the Ledger.
Fancelli is pushing to have the proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot, but would consider bankrolling a special election in 2016. A change in the charter, which now has Lakeland run by a city manager instead of a strong mayor, would have to pass with more than 50 percent of the vote. If that happens, the campaign for strong mayor could take place as soon as 2017.
A strong mayor would administer all of Lakeland’s City Hall operations, replacing the city manager.
There are two ways a Lakeland charter amendment makes it on the ballot: petition from residents or approval by the City Commission. For a petition, there must be at least 10 percent of registered voters in Lakeland — 5,290 signatures.
With the petition route, the city clerk has 20 days to verify signatures after one is turned in. Then, city commissioners have another 60 days to add the referendum to the ballot.
Chambliss reports that last week Dockery met with Matt Doster of the public relations firm Front Line Strategies, which Fancelli hired. Doster’s company is also working for Jeb Bush in South Carolina, one of the early presidential primary states.
Doster told Dockery “her name comes up a lot” in the strong mayor discussion. Dockery responded that residents should consider changing the city charter. When lobbying legislators on behalf of a city, she said strong mayors bring “a little more authority.”
Fancelli also discussed his plans with Gene Strickland, the former Lakeland city manager. He believes Strickland would also be a good strong mayor, someone who could bring both sides of the issue together. Strickland told Fancelli he was not interested, adding that he felt it was not necessary to change Lakeland’s form of city government.