CLEARWATER - City Council discussion of second readings of proposed ordinances are usually brief if there is any discussion at all. But during their work session meeting on Tuesday, the Clearwater City Council made an abrupt change of direction on one of the most important issues they have faced this year.
Opening the discussion of the ordinance that would place the downtown boat slip referendum on the November ballot, Mayor Frank Hibbard called the project "enormously important" and said, "The more I look at the ballot, I'm concerned about how congested it is."
Hibbard enumerated the November ballot races, including the Governor, Senator, Congressmen, State House, Judges, County Commission, Constitution amendments and County Charter issues; "At the very end of that, we have the boat slips," he said. Hibbard suggested delaying the boat slip referendum until March 2007, giving the city more time to prepare, and giving its citizens an uncluttered ballot to focus on.
Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton agreed. He was concerned that the city's effort to get its citizens to vote "no" on the proposed County Charter referendum questions might carry over to unintended "no" votes on the slips. "In a much shorter city ballot in March, we have a much better chance of getting the proper message and a better vote," he said
Councilmember Bill Jonson reiterated his desire to establish a focus group to evaluate the ballot language and ensure that there was no way it could be misunderstood. "I wouldn't mind deferring this," he said. But recognizing that his term expires in March and that he can't run for reelection because of term limits, Jonson added, "I'd like to see this happen while I'm still on the Council."
"I think that there are tremendous benefits to this for downtown and the entire city, and people will see that if given the opportunity," Hibbard said. The Council will vote on tabling the boat slip referendum during their meeting tonight.
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