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Lynn Haven City Commissioners Leave Mayoral Seat Vacant

Valerie Crowder
Lynn Haven city commissioners decided not to appoint a replacement for former Mayor Margo Anderson at a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.

Former Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson's seat on the city commission is expected to remain empty until next year's local elections, unless Gov. Ron DeSantis appoints someone to the office.

The commission voted 3-1 to let a 10-day deadline to appoint a mayor expire without selecting someone to fill the position. City leaders say they doubt DeSantis will put someone into office. If he doesn't act, residents won't have a city mayor until after voters cast their ballots in local races on April 20, 2021.

City Commissioner Pat Perno expressed concern about losing the mayor's tie-breaking vote for several months.

Perno made a motion for the board to elevate Mayor Pro Tem Dan Russell to mayor and then appoint someone to fill his vacant commission seat at a later date. This would have brought the number of commissioners from four to five, he said.

"We could stalemate our city for the next seven months," Perno said. "That was my reasoning."

Nearly two years after Hurricane Michael devastated the town, the city is finalizing plans to rebuild City Hall, the police station and the senior center. All three remain inaccessible due to storm damage, though some work on the senior center is taking place. Many city employees are working out of modular units or trailers.

Perno's motion for Russell to get the appointment quickly died after Russell stated that he wouldn't accept if chosen.

"It keeps anybody else from thinking that this commission is colluding to make me mayor," he explained to the board.

After Anderson was indicted on public corruption charges, Russell acknowledged at an emergency commission meeting that he is the unnamed "city commissioner" referenced in the documents.

Russell has not been charged with a crime and says he's innocent of any wrongdoing. Still, he expressed concern that it could make it more challenging to rebuild public trust if the board made him mayor.

"I feel like the mayoral position should be chosen by the people. It’s an elected position," Russell said. "Someone who’s wanting to be a mayor has to start campaigning, that’s the best way to fill that seat."

Russell says he doesn't think DeSantis will end up appointing someone to replace Anderson. "If he decides to appoint somebody, then I trust his opinion," he said.

Arlene Harrison was among the Lynn Haven residents who attended the meeting. After the board's decision to not appoint a new mayor-commissioner, she says she felt upset about the possible months-long vacancy ahead.

"We're going to wind up with three-one votes and two-two votes, and I'm afraid that the work of the commission will be stymied."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.