Longboat residents may be presented with a referendum question in March that could have sweeping effects on town government: here's what they're proposing.
Town commissioners are hoping to send referendum questions about changing the town charter to voters next year.
Three are single-idea considerations, involving revenue bonds, term limits and election procedures.
The fourth, explained here, contains so-called “administrative issues.” Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale said she prefers the phrase “clean-up provisions” when referring to these proposed amendments. “These aren’t perfunctory changes,” Mooney-Portale said. “There is substance in them.”
There may be 26 bundled changes in one vote. If approved, some officials could gain power, others could lose it. And only a few of the proposed changes were discussed with commissioners when presented last month.
We’ve broken down the bundled proposal into four parts and explained each of the possible changes. Many of the hyperlinks below will connect you with the actual proposed language change in the town charter
Of all the suggested administrative changes to the town charter, these might be the most drastic.
The Charter Review Committee suggested removing the charter-mandated need for the Planning and Zoning Board, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Code Enforcement Board and the Investment Advisory Committee. But these proposals do not mean the town wants to rid itself of advisory committees, Mooney-Portale said.
Instead, they give the town flexibility to seek other means of enforcement, such as using a special magistrate; proposing changes in town codes to define them, which is much easier to change than the town charter; or consolidating responsibilities with similar committees, like giving the finance board investment advisory authority.
The Town Commission’s investigative authority, which the Charter Review Committee proposed revoking, has hardly been used, said Mooney-Portale. It allows commissioners to investigate misconduct of employees, but those proceedings would be public. And the town manager is the only one with authority to hire, fire and discipline employees. “It’s a little awkward to say the least,” Mooney-Portale said.
Another provision would allow commissioners to meet anytime after an election, rather than 7 p.m., to give the commission freedom to call that meeting whenever it works best. Commissioners meet at 1 p.m. monthly for their regular meetings.
Town Manager’s Expanding Role
The town charter already gives the town manager a lot of power over how the town operates, almost like a CEO. The proposed changes would expand the manager’s duties and further define responsibilities.
The town manager would be given the authority, with the approval of two town commissioners, to call special or emergency meetings.
Town Manager Dave Bullock said in an email that in his position, he often knows about emergencies before commissioners, therefore making it “logical” for a town manager to call an emergency or special meeting.
The Charter Review Committee recommended requiring an assistant town manager, but Bullock suggested changing the language to give the town manager an option to appoint rather than mandate the position. Commissioners agreed.
The town manager already has the authority to move up to $10,000 within departments without permission from the Town Commission. One proposed amendment gives her or him power twice that amount between departments.
Since the town manager sets the salary for all employees (town’s emergency services employees belong to the International Association of Firefighters and Police Benevolent Association unions, according to Bullock) another proposed change to the charter gives the town manager authority to compensate collective bargaining units.
The town manager is also in charge of town procurement. That could mean buying a new copier or contracting for painters. But as the charter is written, she or he can only purchase supplies. The proposed charter changes “supplies” to "goods and services."
Interlocal agreements also could come under the scope of the town manager, allowing her or him to contract with other government entities.
But this requirement comes with a caveat: The town manager is not required to include cost estimates or methods of financing for projects, which would give the manager flexibility to propose future projects without knowing exactly how the town will pay for them
Some of the language in the town’s charter, written when much of today’s technology was science fiction, is dated.
The most drastic of these proposed amendments might be allowing digital storage of records of codes and ordinances, a change sparked by the town’s project to digitize all of its records, according to Town Clerk Trish Granger. The process began last spring with hopes of it being published partially on the town website next year, said IT Director Jason Keen.
Town audit information is already posted on the town’s website, as required by state statute. But the charter requires it be published in a local newspaper. Finance Director Susan Smith said that since the town has been posting the document online for a while, it would be “sufficient” to continue this practice without also putting it in the paper.
Officials say the internet is more efficient than paper, and more convenient for dealing with short-term appointments. Changing language in the town charter about how a town manager notifies the town clerk about appointing an acting town manager from “letter” to "written notice" would give the town manager flexibility in appointing a temporary replacement, Bullock said.
The language defining the finance director’s responsibilities “was sort of 19th century,” Smith said. So Mooney-Portale said she updated it to outline which town officials are responsible for what financial duties. “The language just needed to be clearer,” Smith said.
The town charter only requires three years’ experience for a town attorney. But, according to the Florida Board of Bar Overseers, the minimum amount of experience for an attorney to qualify as an expert in municipal law is five years. That’s why the Charter Review Committee agreed to extend the required experience for a town attorney by two years to five, Mooney-Portale said.
Applicable to Florida Law
Many of the proposed administrative changes defer town authority to state mandates, defined in the Florida Constitution or statutes.
Although a town may choose how frequently it holds elections, exactly when a town goes to the polls is determined by the county, Mooney-Portale said. To accommodate this, the town added language aallowing the Supervisors of Elections to oversee town elections. Deferring this authority also appears elsewhere, including special elections for commission vacancies and referendum votes for charter changes.
The charter now mandates a specific process for investigating ethics in government that defines how commissioners and town employees should be held accountable for their judgment. But a proposed change defers that authority to the Florida Commission on Ethics, a nine-member board “responsible for investigating and issuing public reports on complaints of breach of the public trust by public officers and employees,” according to its website.
Allowing the town to adopt a budget by resolution, as allowed by Florida law, rather than only by ordinance would expedite the fiscal process, Smith said. It would also give the Finance Department brevity in applying budget amendments.
The vice mayor might also succeed the mayor in event of a vacancy, although the proposed change suggests that happen only within six months of a term limit. Commissioners suggested changing this to allow succession any time.
As the charter is written, all contracts and bonds with the town must be kept in perpetuity — the change to applicable Florida statutes allows the town to destroy old records after a state-mandated period.
The proposed charter amendments change eliminated reference to a specific statute and replaced it with “applicable Florida Law,” since state law could change, leaving the charter with an impractical reference, Mooney-Portale said.