SEMINOLE – In August Mayor Dottie Reeder wrapped up her busy, yearlong term as president of the Florida League of Cities, Inc. It was a schedule packed with travel, networking, ceremony and yes, some frustration experienced in promoting the programs, projects and philosophy of the state-level organization.
Reeder considers the new Florida Cities of Excellence annual, statewide award program to be her long term “footprint” on the organization. This program was designed to focus public attention on innovative city projects and to honor outstanding city leaders. It outlined a process to place nominations in categories like city of excellence, city spirit award and recognize employees’ efforts through a “person of the year award” for city employees, city managers, city clerks, city attorneys and finance officials.
Cities of Excellence rates as top achievement
“I don’t think taxpayers may be aware of the extraordinary things being done through our cities and employees,” said Reeder. She added that more than 500 people attended the final ceremony to honor the cities and staff. Much positive publicity followed. Many phone calls and e-mails of support were sent to Reeder appreciating the recognition opportunity.
An enjoyable task of Reeder’s was the League’s invitation to participate in a session in Paris, France. She talked about the successful partnership between Seminole and St. Petersburg College, focusing on the new library. “It was my first international presentation,” said Reeder. “It was amazing to me as a mayor of a city with less than 20,000 residents to speak to leaders with more than 10 million in theirs.”
League supports Seminole High’s Road to Roses
Bringing Seminole along in the League’s activities was a central goal, Reeder said. “Now that I know better what’s involved at that level, I know every single entity that our city could take advantage of and benefit from.” She also gave the city statewide visibility that’s already beginning to pay off. Recently, Reeder asked the League for help with the Seminole High School Road to Roses campaign. They wrote the marching band a check for $1,000.
What lessons did Reeder learn working at the state level? “As I watched government behind closed doors, I learned that nothing happens by accident, things are orchestrated,” said Reeder. “You have to open all the doors and get all the details about issues you want to impact.”
Lessons learned at the state-level
A frustrating example for Reeder was her attempt as president to support the effort led by former Senate President John McKay and former Senator Jack Latvala to float a constitutional amendment to review businesses that are eligible for state sales tax exemptions. More than 400 sales tax exemptions were targeted for a closer look.
Through the League, Reeder sponsored information meetings, held board sessions and influenced the membership to earmark $100,000 to support the effort. “It was a cause I felt very strongly about,” said Reeder who added that some of the best legal minds in the state crafted the initiative.
But in July through a legal challenge brought by the state attorney general, the Supreme Court said that the proposal violated the state’s single-subject rule for constitutional amendments and didn’t include strong enough public communication.
With such strong support for the sweeping changes, Reeder is not entirely certain of what events may have happened behind the scenes to take down the proposal and what could have been done differently to keep it on the table. But Reeder now knows cracking that process is a key political strength.
But getting a handle on the governmental workings in Tallahassee is not an easy one. According to the League’s 2004 Legislative Session Final Report signed by Reeder, 2,691 bills were filed this session. Of this number, 500 bills passed both chambers, which means that a number of these items will be debated during next year’s session.
A slow start ends with strong support
When Reeder accepted the nod as president in August 2003, the idea was only warmly received by the Seminole City Council, thinking that city staff would be required to spend time on state-level work.
“I think they didn’t know what to expect,” said Reeder. “Maybe I could have explained it better back then.”
But since the air was cleared through heated discussions and some hurt feelings, the council rallied around Reeder. “They have been totally supportive. The whole experience has made us closer. It was a learning curve for us all,” she said.
At the 78th Annual Conference in Hollywood, Fla., in August, Reeder received accolades for her service when leaving the post behind. But it was the hometown support that she valued most.
The City Council attended, as did the president of the Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce, Trina Watkins, and executive director of the Miss Seminole pageant, Henny Hlas, at their own expense. “They presented me with a beautiful charm bracelet, and the council attended many of the functions,” said Reeder.
All in all, Reeder said, serving as president of the Florida League of Cities was a worthwhile experience with significant exposure for Seminole, valuable familiarity gained and lots of exhausting travel.