City takes step toward possibly changing election date
SEBRING Rodger Stamps and Ron Williams, two Sebring residents spending time in the downtown Wednesday, chose not to vote in Sebring’s city election in March. But on whether the election should be moved and on the process to do that they are not in total agreement. They voiced their views after the Sebring City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to hold a non-binding referendum in March 2014 on whether the council should increase terms from three to four years. Councilman Andrew Fells, who advocates changing the election date to the primary and school board election date in August because only about 5 percent of the voters turned out this year, said he believes more people will turn out because of other elections on the ballot.Changing the election date to August, however, wouldn’t serve a purpose unless the length of terms was changed so future elections would match up, Fells said. Fells said holding the nonbinding referendum during the next city election in 2014 would be the best choice because of the increased costs and work for a binding referendum. Neither Stamps nor Williams object to moving the election August, but didn’t commit to voting because such a change occurs. Stamps said he didn’t vote because he didn’t feel the results would affect him, either way. Williams said he didn’t believe any of the candidates -- Councilmen John Griffin, Scott Stanley or challenger Lenard Carlisle -- were worth supporting. Stamps agreed moving the election to August might draw more voters, but opposes changing the length or terms to four years, saying “I don’t believe they should have that long of a term.” However, Williams said, he wouldn’t object to moving the election or adding a year to the terms. Although the vote to hold the referendum was unanimous, there wasn’t unanimity of feeling there either. Mayor George Hensley, who can’t vote on issues and Council members Stanley and Griffin said they did not feel moving the election would solve problems of voter apathy. But Council members Fells, John Clark and Bud Whitlock said they supported the change. Griffin said voters turn out when there’s controversy or “they don’t like what we’re doing.” In recent years, he said, the council lowered taxes and he believes most people are happy. He blamed the unusually low turnout this year on lack of media coverage. Griffin and others said heavy campaigning also affects the turnout. But Fells said he doesn’t blame the media and questioned whether active campaigning has a major influence on the turnout. “I busted my butt,” he said about when he campaigned for office. “I knocked on many doors. I ran a hard campaign. Luckily it paid off. It didn’t help turnout.” Stanley said he doesn’t see the need to change the date. Although the August city election pared with the primary and school board elections may result in more people voting, “that doesn’t guarantee a better result.” He said the additional voters may be unfamiliar with who is on the city’s ballot or even really care. Stanley said he’s comfortable with residents deciding whether to vote and that those who are familiar with the issues will show up. But Whitlock said people told him they forgot to vote and he’s come to believe the system has become “sort of broken” with the turnout so low. Clark said he sees both sides of the issue, but finds the apathy “is disappointing.” In other matters, the council honored Gene Brenner, a lot artist and business owner, as citizen of the year. A resolution noted that Brenner has been involved for decades in downtown preservation. Council members also elected Fells as council president and Clark as president pro tems.