Mayor Watford is appointed for second term

OKEECHOBEE — At the first meeting of the new Okeechobee City Council on Jan. 15, newly re-elected council member Dowling Watford was appointed to serve his second term as mayor of Okeechobee. Mayor Watford was the only nominee; however, there was some discussion on changing the length of the term of office held by the mayor from two years to one year.

Mayor Dowling Watford

Councilman Bobby Keefe spoke of his curiosity about the length of the term and how it came to be two years. He said Lane Gamiotea, the city clerk, had researched it for him and found it originated in the 1980s and most likely was because the elections were held every two years.

After some discussion, Councilman Keefe made a motion to discuss changing the term to one year. Councilman Bob Jarriel seconded the motion but then said that in his experience on other boards, they have almost always had two-year terms and he feels that has been a plus, and at this point he would like to see it stay the same. “I felt in my second year on the South Florida Fair board, I did a better job,” he explained.

Mayor Watford said he felt that one advantage Okeechobee had over other cities was the continuity. He explained that Mayor James Kirk was mayor for 28 years. He said many other boards rotate and, while that’s certainly an option, he believes continuity is Okeechobee’s strong point. He also explained because the elections were every two years, it was logical for a new mayor to be appointed after each election rather than during a non-election year.

Councilman Keefe jokingly said Mayor Dowling’s opinion of success may not be the same as his. After a vote with Councilman Keefe placing the only dissenting vote, Mayor Dowling was appointed for a two-year term.

In other business, The Florida Trail Association has designated the city of Okeechobee as a Gateway Community, which, according to the Florida Trail Association website, means “A Gateway Community is a city in close proximity to the Florida Trail that offers accommodation, restaurants, grocery stores and recreational opportunities. This program works by connecting our hikers to these towns and local businesses along the Florida Trail, and vice versa.

“A Gateway Community not only brings awareness, safety and accommodation to enhance our hikers’ experience on the Florida Trail, but also provides publicity, tourism and economic growth to the town’s local businesses.”

The council also voted to implement a time for council comments at the end of every meeting. This will be a time when they can discuss things that were not on the agenda.

Under Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, council members cannot meet to discuss city business privately.

Mayor Watford joked, “We can discuss anything — firing the administrator, for example — but we can’t take any action for anything that wasn’t on the agenda.”

Councilwoman Monica Clark said she was looking forward to it because it will be a time when they can all discuss topics of mutual concern.

Attorney John Cook just wanted to know if there was going to be a time limit, which got a laugh from everyone.

Mayor Watford replied there would be no time limit unless it got out of hand.
The new council comments segment will begin at the next council meeting.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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