COTI: Upcoming Changes on the Sanibel City Council

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by Larry Schopp, Board Member, Committee of the Islands

Larry Schopp

On March 2, 2021 Sanibel voters could do something they haven’t done in recent memory — elect three entirely new members of the city council. There have been three open seats before but not without at least one true incumbent in the race. What makes this election cycle different?

To begin with, Vice Mayor Mick Denham, whose term will expire in March, is not seeking reelection. On top of that Councilman Jason Maughan and Mayor Kevin Ruane, both of whom chose to run for other office — Maughan for the Florida House of Representatives and Ruane for the Lee County Board of County Commissioners — have had to resign from the city council under Florida’s “resign to run” law. Florida is one of only five states with such a law. Those resignations have already been tendered and will become effective in November, regardless of whether either is elected to a new position.

Under the Sanibel City Charter when a council member leaves office for any reason with fewer than six months remaining on his/her term or until the next election, the remaining council members are required to appoint a replacement to complete that members unexpired term.
Other qualifications aside, there is one important question to be addressed before those appointments are made. If the person selected to fill the vacancy intends to run for a full term in March would the interim appointment create an unfair advantage by creating the aura of “incumbency.” Reasonable minds could differ on that — but it certainly could. In the past interim appointments went to people who intended to run for a full term regardless of the possible advantage it created but It does not appear that will be the case this time.

The council members who will decide — Mick Denham, Holy Smith and Richard Johnson talked about the process at the August 18 city council meeting, and while not coming to a clear consensus seem inclined to choose people who indicate that they have no interest in running for a full term on the council. Smith and Denham appeared quite clear on that while Johnson leaned that way but said he did not want to exclude anyone from the process. As of now all interested parties will be invited to apply regardless of whether they intend to seek a full term or not.The appointments will be announced at the December 1 city council meeting.

If all goes according to plan, after a five day qualifying period beginning on January, 11, 2021, candidates for city council will begin campaigning and in March three new members will take office.

But that’s not the end of the story. Since Councilman Maughan lost his primary race for the Florida House of Representatives, by state law his resignation from the city council will still take place on November 3. Yes, it’s the law — but does that make practical sense? Though Mayor Ruane won his primary race for the Lee County Commission, his election in November, though very likely, is not guaranteed. So, If you are wondering whether having resigned from the city council either Mr. Maughan or Mr. Ruane could run and be reelected to the city council in March — the answer is yes. So stay tuned. It’s shaping up to be an interesting election cycle on Sanibel.

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