In March, voters will be asked to vote on amending our Town Charter. There will be 21 questions on the ballot, each one needing a yes or no response from voters.
Our current Town Charter calls for a Charter Review every 10 years. Late in 2014, Town Council appointed five community members to serve on a Charter Review Committee (CRC). They were Tom Babcock, Chair and Miffie Greer, Vice-Chair, Dan Hughes, Jay Light and Dan Parker. After numerous meetings, lots of discussion and careful reading of the charter, they presented Town Council with their recommendations. After two public hearings, Council agreed to put 21 proposed charter changes on the ballot in March.
As with all referendum questions, it helps to understand the question before you head into the voting booth. Over the past year, the Island Sand Paper has kept Islanders abreast of the changes under discussion. As we approach the March election, we will summarize the questions voters will be asked to weigh in on, starting this week with Referendum Questions #1-5.
For reference, the Town Charter is available online at www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov Look for Your Government, then Town Charter. For each referendum question, the ballot will ask, “Shall the above-described amendment be adopted?” with options being Yes for approval and No against approval.
REFERENDUM # 1
TITLE: REMOVING LIMITATIONS ON THE TOWN’S ABILITY TO ENGAGE IN LONG TERM FINANCING
SUMMARY: This amendment will allow the Town to borrow the funds necessary to meet long term capital improvement funding needs in accordance with the Town’s Debt Management Policy.
Sec. 11.03. Council action on the budget.
- Unless authorized by the electors of the town at a duly held referendum election, the council shall not authorize or allow to be authorized the issuance of revenue bonds or enter into lease-purchase contracts or any other unfunded multi-year contracts all for the purchase of real property or the construction of any capital improvement, the repayment of which extends in excess of 36 months, unless mandated by state or federal governing agencies.
This change, recommended by the Town’s Audit Committee, would delete the entire section and allow the Town to take on debt with payments lasting longer than three years. The 3-year limitation results in higher interest rates and difficulty negotiating leases. Over the years, this limitation has cost the Town a lot of money according to Town Administrative Services Directory Maureen Rischitelli.
REFERENDUM # 2
TITLE: LOWERING THE REQUIREMENTS FOR RESIDENT INITIATIVES
SUMMARY: This amendment will lower the threshold percentage for resident initiatives to be presented to the Town Council regarding adoption of an ordinances affecting the Town from 25% to 15%.
Sec. 12.01. Initiative and referendum.
At least 25 15 percent of the qualified electorate of the town shall have the power to petition the council to propose an ordinance or to require reconsideration of an adopted ordinance, and if the council fails to adopt such ordinance so proposed, or to repeal such adopted ordinance, without any change in substance, then the council shall place the proposed ordinance, or the repeal of the adopted ordinance, on the ballot at the next municipal election.
Charter Review Committee member Jay Light penned several explanatory articles about the Charter amendments. He had this to say about this change:
“The charter currently requires at least 25 percent of the town’s qualified voters to petition the council to propose an ordinance or require reconsideration of one, and to force the issue to a referendum in the next municipal election if the council fails to adopt it. With give-or-take 5,100 registered voters, that means 1275 signatures are needed. We’re proposing lowering that requirement to 15 percent of the voters, or 765 signatures, still a lot, but more easily attained. Considering the percentage of voters who actually care enough to vote (25 percent, maybe?), this seems more realistic. I don’t see this lowered requirement as opening the door to a lot of frivolous petitions.”
REFERENDUM # 3
TITLE: REQUIRING THREE AFFIRMATIVE COUNCIL MEMBER VOTES TO TAKE OFFICAL ACTION
SUMMARY: The Charter currently allows an official action to be adopted upon the affirmative vote of only two members in the event of a voting conflict or absentee member. This amendment will require that all official actions, except in the case of emergencies, will require an affirmative vote of at least three members.
Sec. 4.13. Voting; quorum.
Roll call voting shall be required for ordinances or upon the specific request of a council member and shall be recorded in the minutes; otherwise, voting shall be by ayes and nays. Three members of the council shall constitute a quorum. No action of the council shall be valid or binding unless adopted by the affirmative vote of a majority of the at least 3 members of council, except in an emergency situation. All council members in attendance shall vote on all council actions, except when, with respect to any such member, there is, or appears to be, a possible conflict of interest as defined under general law.
This change would mean that Town Council would need three votes to pass anything, other than in an emergency, whether there are 3, 4 or 5 members present. As the Charter currently reads, if only three members are present, a vote of 2-1 could pass an action.
REFERENDUM # 4
TITLE: EXTENDING COUNCIL MEMBER TERMS OF OFFICE FROM THREE TO FOUR YEARS
SUMMARY: This amendment will change the council member terms of service from three years to four years, with elections being held in odd number years. Seats #1, and #2 will initially be for a term from March 2016 to March 2019.
Sec. 5.03. Terms of Office.
The terms for all council seats, #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5, shall be for 3 4 years with elections held every other year ending in an odd number. Seats #1 and #2 shall initially be for a term from March 2016 to March 2019. , except during the transition period, seats #1 and #2 shall initially be for a term from November, 2000 to March, 2005.
With five council seats and three-year terms, our Town has an election two out of every three years. Elections are costly and time consuming. This change would set council member terms at 4 years, so the Town would hold elections every two years. Those elected in March would have their terms expire in three years in March 2019.
REFERENDUM # 5
TITLE: ELIMINATING TERM LIMITS
SUMMARY: This amendment will allow elected council members to serve more than two full consecutive terms; and, eliminates term limits.
Sec. 5.03. Terms of office.
No member of council shall serve for more than two consecutive full terms. After one year out of office, a candidate may qualify for any vacant seat.
Council members are currently limited to two consecutive terms. They are eligible to run again once they have been out of office a year. The debate on term limits includes the position that incumbency provides an advantage in elections. On the other hand voters can always vote someone out. The CRC did not have any recommendation on this one but they did feel it should be put to referendum to let the voters decide.
Next week, we’ll review more Charter changes that will be on your March ballot.