Raymond Sittig, longtime former executive director of the Florida League of Cities and a leading defender of local home rule in Florida, died Monday at age 83, after a lengthy illness. Sittig joined the Florida League of Cities in 1959 and spent 36 years with the organization, serving as its top executive for 25 years before his retirement in 1995.
“I’m saddened by the passing of Ray Sittig. I consider him to be a very good friend and a man of his word. You can’t get much better of a guy than Ray,” said former Florida Governor Reubin Askew. “Ray Sittig made an enormous contribution to the good government movement here in Florida. In particular, Ray gave the FLC the face of integrity in all of its dealings with state government, including the Legislature.”
Sittig became executive director of the Jacksonville-based Florida League of Municipalities in 1970, surpassing a long-time dream of helping residents of a single municipality by serving as a city manager. After taking the reins of the group, Sittig recommended changing the organization’s name to the Florida League of Cities. On his watch, the League moved its headquarters from Jacksonville to Tallahassee to better represent cities before the Legislature and state agencies, and chartered counties became eligible for membership.
As a cornerstone of his service, Sittig made promoting local government “home rule” and protecting cities from unfunded mandates priority issues. In 1989, Florida’s Governor and Cabinet recognized Sittig for his service to the state’s cities and commended him for championing the Home Rule Powers Act.
“Ray Sittig was a true hero to anyone who believes the best government is the one closest to the people,” said former Governor Bob Martinez, who previously served as President of the Florida League of Cities. “During my tenure as mayor of Tampa and president of the League of Cities, and then as Governor, I worked closely with Ray and found him to be an invaluable source of information, an insightful guide on policy matters, and a true friend. Under his expert leadership, the Florida League of Cities emerged as a leading voice for local governments across our state and became a force to be reckoned with in the capital. Ray will be missed by all who knew him and the countless Floridians who benefited from his dedicated service.”
Sittig was known to his friends and coworkers as an outstanding writer and wonderful storyteller, well-read with a great sense of humor. “He was the first Renaissance man I ever met,” said League General Counsel Chip Morrison.
Ray Sittig earned a reputation for unquestioned honesty and approached political issues from a perspective of what was best for Florida’s cities, not what compromise would be easiest to reach. His underlying message to lawmakers, according to Morrison, was: “Give us the authority to fund our operations, and leave us alone.”
Sittig himself effectively summarized his philosophy of government when he once told an interviewer: “Citizens believe in their local decision-makers and want local decisions made right down the street, not hundreds of miles away in either Tallahassee or Washington, D.C.”
“Ray will forever be remembered as the pioneer of home rule in our state and for his instrumental role in increasing the influence of Florida’s cities on the state and national stage,” said Florida League of Cities President Manny Maroño. “Thanks to Ray Sittig’s work, local governments are the ones most trusted by Floridians to address many of the challenges we face.”
Under Sittig’s leadership, the Florida League of Cities experienced significant growth and now serves 410 cities, villages and municipalities across the state.
Ahead of most experts, Sittig recognized that many of Florida’s small- to medium-sized local governments were unable to secure affordable workers’ compensation insurance coverage. He led the Florida League of Cities to create its first insurance program to address that problem. The Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, a pooled trust program, has been a model for others in Florida and nationally, and is a foundation for the League’s growth.
Sittig retired from the League in the 1990s but continued to play a role in promoting municipal government.
Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham said, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Ray Sittig, a passionate and tireless voice for Florida’s communities. The concept of home rule came to the forefront during my years as Governor, and that important idea had no more effective advocate than Ray. Policy set in Tallahassee and Washington is often applied at the local level, and I could always rely on Ray’s leadership to make sure Florida’s municipal leaders understood the opportunities those policies presented. Ray also became a personal friend and Adele and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Sittig family.”
Raymond C. Sittig was born April 8, 1929, and was raised in Michigan as one of eight children. After serving in the Navy shortly after the end of World War II and during the Korean War, he attended Michigan State University. He initially planned to go to law school and enter politics, but eventually determined he would help people become more knowledgeable about their government by going into public administration.
Sittig spent two and a half years as assistant city manager in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before applying for a position in Fernandina Beach. A former mayor of that city who was then executive director of the Florida League of Municipalities saw his application and urged him to come work with him at the League. Sittig said he didn’t think he would be interested in the job because of his long-time desire to become a city manager so he could help people understand their city government.
When the executive pointed out that a position with the League meant Sittig could work for all cities at once, his decision was inescapable. Ray Sittig began work at the Florida League of Municipalities on February 1, 1959, and embarked on a lifetime of excellence in service to the diverse communities of Florida.
Sittig is survived by his wife of six decades, Betty, and their five sons and daughter Michael, Mark, William, Ronald, Dennis and Paula, as well as many beloved grandchildren and great-grandchild. Eldest son Michael is now executive director of the Florida League of Cities.
Funeral arrangements are pending.