In March, voters will be asked to vote on amending our Town Charter. There will be twenty-one questions on the ballot, each one needing a yes or no response from voters. As a service to Island voters, we summarize each question here.
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.
This change, recommended by the Town’s Audit Committee, would allow the Town to take on debt with payments lasting longer than three years. The current 3-year limit results in higher interest rates and difficulty negotiating leases. Florida already requires voter approval when bonds are payable from ad valorem taxes and limits the millage rate set by municipalities.
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 ordinance affecting the Town from 25% to 15%.
The Town has about 5,000 registered voters. A successful initiative would need 1,250 signatures. Changing the standard from 25% to 15% would reduce the required signatures to 750.
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.
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.
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.
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, the same as all other Lee County municipalities and the Town would hold elections every two years.
ELIMINATING TERM LIMITS
SUMMARY: This amendment will allow elected council members to serve more than two full consecutive terms; and, eliminates term limits.
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.
ESTABLISHING A TOWN CANVASSING BOARD
SUMMARY: This amendment will create a Town Canvassing Board. At the close of any Town election, the Town Canvassing Board will review the votes on file with the Supervisor of Elections and certify the total number of votes taken.
State law requires a board to certify elections and this amendment defines the process the Town will use to meet that requirement.
SETTING COUNCIL MEMBER SALARIES AND METHOD FOR ADJUSTMENT
SUMMARY: This amendment establishes a specific annual salary for the mayor and council members, effective April 1, 2016, and provides a method for annual adjustment.
Currently the Town pays each council member $14,400 per year, with the mayor being paid $16,800 – the same pay since 2002. If passed, this amendment will set council pay at $16,800 with the mayor being paid $19,200. That pay would increase only when there is a percentage increase for town employees – council/mayor would receive the same percentage increase. Council members are approached with questions, concerns or complaints at all hours. They are expected to prepare for at least four meetings each month. They spend a significant amount of time fulfilling their duties. While the CRC acknowledged that the job is considered “volunteer” work and public service, they also thought that appropriate compensation might encourage a diverse slate of qualified candidates to run for council.
CLARIFYING THE DATE MAYOR AND VICE MAYOR ARE SELECTED
SUMMARY: This amendment clarifies that the selection of the council members to serve as mayor and vice mayor will occur at the first meeting following the second Tuesday in March.
This is a housekeeping question that clears up when the mayor and vice-mayor are elected, whether it is an election year or not.
CLARIFYING THE TERMS OF FORFEITURE OF OFFICE
SUMMARY: This amendment clarifies that a council member may forfeit elected office for failure to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled council meetings without an excused absence, or failure to maintain a permanent residence in the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
The Charter currently states that a council member who misses three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings may lose their seat. This amendment would add, “without an excused absence.” It also adds the requirement that council members maintain a permanent residence within the Town while serving on council, a requirement currently assumed but missing from the Charter.
AMENDING AND CLARIFYING THE PROCESS FOR THE ADOPTION OF EMERGENCY TOWN ORDINANCES
SUMMARY: This amendment eliminates unnecessary restraints on the Town Council to enact ordinances under emergency conditions. Emergency ordinances adopted by Council will automatically be repealed 61 days after adoption.
This question deals with emergency ordinances, something that is already covered in Florida law, which limits what emergency ordinances can and cannot do. The automatic termination of any emergency ordinances after 61 days is designed to prevent abuse.
CLARIFY THE PROCESS OF COUNCIL ACTION IN RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION OF THE CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
SUMMARY: This amendment removes obsolete language regarding the timing of charter review, which will be conducted every 10 years. It clarifies that Council action with respect to Charter Review Commission recommendations includes the authority to accept, reject or modify the proposed changes after two public hearings.
This question is one of the clerical correction questions. It removes obsolete language related to the Town’s early days and clarifies the Charter Review process going forward.
ESTABLISHING THAT VIOLATIONS OF THE CHARTER’S NON-INTERFERENCE PROVISIONS CONSTITUTE GROUNDS FOR RECALL
SUMMARY: The Charter provides that council members will direct improvements to operations of Town government through the Town Manager. This amendment establishes that a violation of this requirement for non-interference with Town staff will constitute grounds for a council member’s recall.
The CRC noted that over the years, there have been numerous violations of non-interference rules. They believed that clarifying that violations are considered malfeasance and can result in removal from office reinforces that the rules are to be taken seriously. The Lee County Charter includes the same language.
CLARIFYING THE TERRITORIAL BOUNDARIES OF THE
TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH
SUMMARY: The Town Charter currently describes its territorial waters as a corporate limit 1,000 feet offshore. This amendment will clarify that the Town boundaries include the waters within 1,000 feet of Estero Island into the Gulf of Mexico.
This is a clerical change that removes misleading language.
UPDATING REQUIREMENTS FOR KEEPING RECORDS
AND MINUTES OF COUNCIL MEETINGS
SUMMARY: The requirement to keep a journal in addition to minutes of Council meetings is outdated and will be eliminated by this amendment. Minutes of Council meetings will be maintained in accordance with the Town Council Policies and Procedures Manual.
This change will align the Charter with current practice. The Town does not maintain a journal, but does record and approve minutes for public meetings. The Policy and Procedure Manual not only provides guidelines for Council members, but also provides important background information for anyone considering becoming a member of Town Council.
CLARIFYING THE LANGUAGE REGARDING THE
FILLING OF COUNCIL MEMBER VACANCIES
SUMMARY: This amendment deletes unnecessary language relating to the filling of council vacancies and establishes a gender-neutral statement.
This clerical change removes ambiguity in the process and eliminates the use of “him.”
CLARIFYING THAT RESONABLE NOTICE WILL BE
PROVIDED FOR ALL MEETINGS
SUMMARY: The Town Charter currently requires at least 24 hours notice for all Council meetings. This amendment will delete the 24-hour timeframe and require reasonable notice for all meetings.
This change removes the requirement of 24 hours notice for special meetings and replaces it with “reasonable” notice. In the event of a hurricane or other disaster, council would be able to meet with less than 24 hours notice.
CLARIFYING COUNCIL VOTE TO REMOVE TOWN MANAGER
SUMMARY: This amendment clarifies that removal of the Town Manager requires an affirmative vote of at least three Council members.
CLARIFYING THE TERMS OF THE TOWN MANAGER’S APPOINTMENT
SUMMARY: This amendment removes the requirement that Town Council appoint a Town Manager for an indefinite term.
Amendments 17 & 18 would change the Charter to comply with practice. Town managers have often not been contracted for specific terms and this change would allow Council necessary leeway in their selection. #17 clarifies that a clear majority of council must vote for removal of a town manager.
REMOVING THE REFRENDUM REQUIREMENT FOR
ROAD AND BRIDGE TOLLS
SUMMARY: This amendment deletes the requirement for a referendum vote before the Council can impose bridge or road tolls. Amendment will reflect the reality that the Town does not own any toll-able bridges or roads.
The bridges leading to Fort Myers Beach are owned by the state. The Town has no legal say on any toll question.
REMOVING OBSOLETE LANGUAGE REGARDING
INDEPENDENT SPECIAL DISTRICTS
SUMMARY: This amendment is necessary to clean up the charter. It will eliminate provisions applicable to local independent special districts within the boundaries of the Town. No independent special districts exist wholly within the boundaries of the Town.
There are no independent special districts located wholly within the boundaries of Fort Myers Beach.
REMOVING UNNECESSARY LANGAUGE
REGARDING REVENUE SHARING
SUMMARY: The Town Charter currently contains language regarding eligibility for state revenue sharing based on the calculations including local special districts. This authority is already provided for by both a special act of the legislature and by general law.
This is another ‘cleaning up the Charter’ question. This section is unnecessary as the topic is already covered by state law.
Readers can find more information about the Town Charter and Referendum questions online at www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov. 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.