Local News

Sebring updates its history book

SEBRING - When John Shoop becomes Sebring's mayor in March, he'll find that he has no vote and that he has limited administrative powers.

Almost a century ago, one of Shoop's predecessors found the city's weak mayor form of government not to his liking, according to the city's Hall of Fame history book.

James Carlton, who was elected mayor in 1923, had strong religious convictions against public dances, according to the book.

Carlton, as mayor, ordered that dances in downtown Sebring be stopped immediately, the book said.

"... But it was pointed out to him that the town marshal had no authority to prohibit dancing; nor did the mayor," the book said. "The following morning the frustrated mayor resigned."

As it turned out, Carlton wasn't the only city official to resign because of the way his duties were delineated.

The book outlined Sebring's history through 1987. Now, Assistant City Administrator Bob Hoffman and City Clerk Kathy Haley are about finished updating it until the present, but are waiting until after the March election to finalize the project.

The updated book notes that Hoffman was the city's first administrator. Only Hoffman and Scott Noethlich, the current city administrator, have either held the administrator or assistant administrator positions.

Hoffman said that he wanted to help Haley, who has done most of the work, because of his appreciation of the city's history.

"When we get older, history becomes more important to us," he said.

Haley said the updated Hall of Fame book will be a "lasting tribute" to the city officials over the years who have served the city's residents. She said the updated version will include more information on directors of departments.

The book outlines much of the progress the city has made since 1912. Mayor George Hensley is the only current elected official who held office when the original version of the book was written.

Some tidbits from the original and updated section of the book:

The current City Hall opened in 1969. Back in 1914, the council met in the mayor's barbershop downtown. Since then, there's been a couple of other buildings that served as city hall before the existing one.

Since Sebring's incorporation in 1912, there's been 23 mayors and dozens of city council members.

Several council members have had the last name Sebring, with William Sebring, who served on the council from 1976 to 1977, being the last member of the family with the Sebring last name to serve. Others included P.M. Sebring, George Sebring Jr., and George Sebring III.

While the city administrator position is relatively new, the last time the city treasurer was elected was in 1926. Since then, the city clerk has held that duty. The city had its own tax collector until 1949. Dorothy Marchand was the last person to hold that position.

For many years, the city had its own court. The mayor served as judge of the police court, the book indicates. In 1925, Neil Durrance, who was selected as city council president that year, was notified that because the mayor was absent, he would have to serve as judge of the police court on one particular evening when the docket included the case of Virginia Lopp, who was charged with speeding. Durrance showed up for the court session, but promptly resigned because he did not want to carry out the duty. There's no mention of whether Lopp was ultimately convicted of speeding. Decades later, the Florida Legislature abolished municipal courts.

Sebring experienced a boom from 1923 to 1926. During that period, the city borrowed a lot of money.

But during the bust that followed from 1927 to 1932, the city struggled to pay its debts.

A somewhat similar problem occurred in the 1980s. In 1981, the city borrowed almost $70 million to build a power plant. But when the electricity prices dropped and cheaper power was available elsewhere, the power plant was shut down much of the time. City residents paid the highest electric bills in the state and with a restructuring of the bonds, the debt increased to $99 million.

"One citizen showed up at a meeting wrapped in chains to demonstrate he was locked into Sebring Utilities Commission rates," the book said.

Even after the system was sold to Tampa Electric Company, a debt remained that was paid off with an assessment on everyone's bill to March 31, 2009.

Patricia Wilk, a former city councilwoman, appeared on the Today Show as an advocate for children. She was interviewed by Deborah Norville.

Eddie DeLoach, a former fire chief, was involved in nearly 25 productions at Highlands Little Theatre.

The book also gives biographical information about many city officials.


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