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Sarasota Thursday, May. 5, 2011 6 years ago

Voters to decide on 21 changes to city's charter

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Voters will soon decide whether to raise city commissioners’ salaries; overturn a wage requirement that chased Walmart out of Newtown; and prohibit the city from making risky investments.

Those three measures are among 21 changes to the city’s charter that city commissioners are putting to referendum in a yet-to-be-determined election.

The charter is essentially the city’s constitution.

Many of the changes the Charter Review Committee recommended to the commission are unremarkable, such as eliminating a distinction between an assistant city manager and deputy city manager.

But a few will interest many voters.

One such change would be to allow commissioners’ salaries to be increased up to 100% of the amount state law allows. Currently, commissioners earn 66.7% of that amount, which is about $25,000 per year.

Another charter alteration would be the elimination of the Alternate Wage Requirement.

That was placed in the charter in 2007, and it was aimed at Wal-Mart, which wanted to build a store in Newtown. A national anti-Wal-Mart group started a petition drive to require any company employing more than 50 people and receiving more than $100,000 in subsidies or tax abatements per year to pay their workers a minimum wage that worked out to $10.70 per hour — $3.45 per hour more than Florida’s minimum wage.

Wal-Mart was the only company that met those qualifications. The company abandoned its plans, and many in North Sarasota now regret that decision.

“(It) was devastating to us,” said Barbara Langston, a North Sarasota community leader. “(The minimum wage requirement) will continue to stop economic development.”

One charter change would restrict the city from placing money in derivatives, which are subject to risky, speculative investments.

Commissioner Terry Turner is an expert in derivatives, and he believes they are far too technical and volatile for city finance staff to use.

The Charter Review Committee actually recommended 22 changes to the charter, but the commission rejected one of them.

One of those proposals was to number the city’s two at-large commission seats, which would require an at-large candidate to declare one particular seat he was seeking.

The change was intended to eliminate “bullet voting,” which sees voters choosing only one candidate, instead of two. That way, if they have a favorite candidate, rival candidates receive fewer votes.
But Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins felt the proposal would further water down the minority vote in his district, District 1.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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