Prepare to Vote on Clearwater City Charter Amendments
By Anne McKay Garris
On January 29, 2008, there will be five amendments to the Clearwater City Charter, among the other candidates and issues for Clearwater voters to decide on.
Put together after a year of deliberation by a Charter Review Committee appointed by the City Council, the amendments will change some of the ways the city will do business. The major change among the five will be adding a year to the City Council term of office.
The ballot will read, "Shall Section 2.03 of the City Charter be amended as provided in Ordinance No. 7902-07 to change the term of office for Council members including the Mayor, from 3 years to 4 years, commencing with the 2008 election and provide that Council members, including the Mayor, take office the next business day following certification of the election returns?"
Up until about 15 years ago, Clearwater City officials served two years terms and there were no term limitations. Then the term was expanded to 3 years and, later, a limit of 2 three-year terms was added. This change, if approved by the voters, would extend the term of office to 4 years and limit each official to two consecutive four-year terms, increasing the total potential time in office from 6 to 8 years.. The Mayor would be under the same rules.
Frank Dame, member of the 2007 Charter Review Committee, explains, "It was felt that the city would have more continuity of seasoned leadership by extending the term from 3 to 4 years."
Former Clearwater Mayor Rita Garvey commented, "I am opposed to the change of Council terms to four years. My experience was that two years was too short, but four years would be too long."
The next most controversial amendment to the Charter is worded, "Shall Section 2.01 of the City Charter relating to limitations on the conveyance of real property be amended as provided in Ordinance No. 7901-07 to allow the city to donate real property which does not exceed one-half acre for workforce or affordable housing, which means housing affordable to people and families whose total annual income does not exceed 120% of the Area Median Income?"
Currently the Charter requires a referendum before any municipal real property may be sold, donated, leased for a term longer than five years, or otherwise transferred. The exceptions already in the Charter include dedication of rights-of-way and the granting of easements. To these exceptions would be added conveyance for Workforce or Affordable Housing.
Dame comments, "The city needs more workforce housing. Most of the properties that will be considered for this use will be surplus land that cannot be put to good use for other applications."
Former City Commissioner Lee Regulski reviewed the amendment and agreed that he had no reservations about donating ½ acre, or less, to a social agency which would provide needed low-cost housing.
There are limits to using the property along Clearwater's downtown bay front in any way without a referendum. An exception to this for the purpose of granting easements for underground utilities will be on the ballot. The wording for this is, "Shall Section 2.01 (d)(7) of the City Charter relating to limitations of the conveyance of real property bounded on the north by Drew Street, the east by Osceola Avenue, the south by Pierce Street and the west by the water of Clearwater Harbor be amended as provided in Ordinance No. 7901-07 to allow Council to grant easements for underground utilities?"
This amendment was included in Ordinance 7901-07, along with the question about donating property for lost cost housing.
A third amendment on the ballot will ask the voters to remove from the Charter a requirement that the purchase of revenue bonds in excess of one million dollars be decided at referendum "unless the bonds are for public health, safety or industrial development as well as revenue bonds for refunding."
This amendment will read, "Shall Article IX of the City Charter, relating to fiscal management, be amended as provided in Ordinance No. 7905-07 to remove the requirement that revenue bonds for projects in excess of one million dollars be put to referendum unless they are for public health, safety, or industrial development or revenue bonds for refunding while not affecting the Florida constitutional requirement for referendum on general obligation bonds?"
Rita Garvey comments, "I have some concerns about this charter change. It may be that the amount, one million dollars, needs to be increased as the cost of construction has risen. But public accountability for major financial commitments needs to be in the Charter."
Former City Commissioner Lee Regulski had problems with the wording of this amendment. "The Charter already empowers the city to do whatever is necessary and proper for the safety, health, convenience and general welfare of its inhabitants. (And recent commissions have rationalized that to include about everything.) The public is currently empowered (by referendum requirement) to decide what is needed for their convenience and general welfare. Let's leave it that way."
A law suit under the requirement of a referendum for bonds over one million dollars was filed because the Roundabout on Mandalay Avenue cost several million, a good part of which was beautification. A judge denied the suit, ruling that the project was for public health and safety.
Dame explained that the Charter Review Committee felt that the one million dollar amount was insignificant in light of the cost of today's projects. "The Committee considered putting in a larger amount," he said, "but felt that the city could lose valuable timing of interest rates, sensitive to market conditions, while waiting for the referendum."
The last two Charter amendments the voters will be asked to approve in January will deal with the make-up of the canvassing board and the length of time between appointments of Charter Review Committees.
The wording of the amendment on the canvassing board reads, "Shall section 8.05 of the City Charter be amended as provided in Ordinance 7904-07 to provide that the canvassing board consist of Council members whose names do not appear on the ballot and, when necessary, to achieve a three member canvassing board, citizen members appointed by Council. And that the canvassing board shall certify the election returns within 24 hours after the final election results are provided by the Supervisor of Elections."
The last amendment requires a Charter Review Committee be appointed every 8 years. The current requirement is for 5 years.
The ballet reads, "Shall Section 7/02 of the City Charter be amended as provided in Ordinance No. 7903-07 to require the appointment of a Charter Review Advisory Committee every eight years instead of every five years?"
Says Dame, "Since the charter should be a relatively stable document that is not changed every few years, the committee felt recommending an 8 year cycle was more appropriate." He added that Council members do not have to wait 8 years if they feel there are issues that need to be addressed in the Charter sooner.
Elizabeth Drayer, also a member of the Charter Review Committee, expressed her appreciation of the way the committee members worked together, adding, "I was disappointed that the City Council chose not to put the historic preservation measure on the ballot." This issue, recommended by the committee, but rejected by the Council, would have required the City Manager to prepare a five year plan for historic preservation in Clearwater and to report annually on its progress.
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