Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, October 12, 2013
New mayor voted in at last minute; item not on agenda

Councilman Ted Blackburn is now the mayor of Islamorada.

The change happened at the very end of Thursday's Village Council meeting, when Ken Philipson announced he was stepping down from the post two months early. He immediately nominated Blackburn to replace him, and the remaining members of the council quickly voted their approval.

In stepping down early, Philipson followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, Michael Reckwerdt, who essentially handed the gavel over to Philipson last September.

Under the village charter, the mayor is selected by his peers at the first meeting after November elections, or on off years at the beginning of December.

The position is largely honorary. The mayor has one vote on the council, like other council members, and is not an executive. Mayors chair council meetings, however, and the title provides prestige in dealings with Tallahassee, as well as with officials in other parts of the Florida Keys.

As he stepped down, Philipson said he'd like to see the schedule for selecting a mayor changed so the position rotates in accord with the start of the October fiscal year. Such timing, however, has a downside. In election years, the new mayor could be voted out of office a month later.

Still, the remainder of the council signaled its agreement with Philipson's proposal. To make the change official, however, the council will have to pass an ordinance approving it. Otherwise, council members would have to reaffirm Blackburn, or pick another mayor, at its Dec. 12 meeting.

Immediately after his appointment, Blackburn said his primary goal will be to get the $99 million Islamorada wastewater project completed smoothly. He also said he'd like to maintain what he said was the continuity that Philipson brought to the council.

Philipson never made his plan to step down at the Oct. 10 meeting public. He made the move shortly before 10 p.m., when most of the meeting hall was empty. The item was not on the prepublished agenda, and Philipson did not announce it as an add-on when the meeting began, as is the typical Village Council protocol.

The move didn't come as a surprise to his four colleagues, though. Philipson explained after the meeting that he had told the other council members he would resign. However, he said he didn't discuss with them his plan to nominate Blackburn as a replacement, a move that would have violated Florida's open meeting laws.

Asked why he kept the matter so quiet, Philipson's answer was unrevealing.

"I just felt that it was in the best interest to do it that way," he said.

Councilman Mike Forster praised Philipson during the council's brief discussion about the mayorship last week.

"I just want to tell you, you did a wonderful job," he said.

The council selected Deb Gillis as vice mayor.


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