Get to know Lakeland’s government

Weak or strong? Learn what type of mayor Lakeland has and why it matters.

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City Hall | Photo via LALtoday

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One of the most important ways to become an engaged member of your community is by getting to know how your local government works. Here’s everything you need to know about Lakeland’s government and what sets it apart.

Weak vs. Strong Mayor

Most cities fall under one of two government systems: A “weakmayor or astrongmayor. Here’s what you need to know about both:

Weakmayor systemsSmaller cities often operate under this system, where the mayor is one of the city commissioners and is not elected by the people. Under this system, the mayor is a regular voting member of the city commission with little to no legal privileges that distinguish him or her from other commission members.

Strongmayor systemsLarger cities (typically those with north of one million residents) often operate under this system, where the mayor is elected and also acts as the city manager. In a strong mayor system, mayors may work independently from city commissioners, acting as the sole decision-maker and overseeing city operations.

So, which one is Lakeland? As a mid-sized city, it actually falls somewhere in the middle. Mayor Bill Mutz refers to Lakeland as an “Elected Mayor system.”

While Lakeland is a far cry south of one million residents, it shares some aspects of a “strong” mayor system. Namely:

  • Having a mayor who is elected by the people, rather than internally appointed. Our current mayor, Mayor Bill Mutz, was elected by Lakelanders in 2018 and re-elected in 2022.
  • Having a mayor who works full time. According to Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz, his role requires somewhere between 50-60 working hours per week, as opposed to some mayors in “weak” mayor systems who work 10-12 hours per week.

Like a “weak” mayor system, Lakeland’s mayor is one of the city commissioners.

Council-Manager Government

The City of Lakeland has seven elected officials — the Lakeland City Commission — that serve as the city’s primary legislative body. The City Commission appoints a city manager to oversee day-to-day municipal operations, draft a budget, and implement and enforce the commission’s policy and legislative initiatives.

This is called a “council-manager” form of government. Lakeland currently has six commissioners and a mayor — Mayor Bill Mutz, Stephanie Madden, Sara Roberts McCarley, Chad McLeod, Mike Musick, Bill Read, and Sam Simmons. Each commissioner has been elected by the people of Lakeland and represents a district or the city at large. They officially represent the city on the state, national, and international levels.

How it works

Commissioners develop and enact policies, hear from members of the community, decide on local tax rates, balance the city budget, determine city pay rates, address community issues, and more.

Additionally, each commissioner takes part in various subcommittees, task forces, and special assignments that directly impact the quality of life for Lakeland residents. Subcommittees include community development, finance, legislative, municipal boards and committees, real estate, and transportation and utility.

How you can join

Local elections for city commissioners are held every two years and each term lasts four years. The term of office for council members is staggered, meaning half of the positions are elected during each election cycle.

To run for office, you must be at least 18 years of age, a resident of your district and county at the time of the election, registered to vote, and able to commit to a 4-year term. The next election cycle will take place in 2023, when three seats on the commission will be up for re-election.

If running for office is a little intimidating for you, Lakeland residents can also volunteer to serve on local committees and boards. These include the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Planning and Zoning Board, Civil Service Board, and even the Beautification Board, to name a few. Committee openings and requirements are posted online and updated regularly.

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