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My View: Charter proposal: unlike others before it

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 3, 2014
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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“Boss Mayor, Strong Mayor, Effective Mayor, Elected Mayor,” call it what you will, but don’t confuse power with leadership.

“Power” comes with the connotation of control, dominance and muscle.

“Leadership” connotes management, direction and guidance.

It’s Time Sarasota has authored a revised charter that, among many improvements to our current election and governance system, promotes an elected mayor who is accountable to the voting citizenry of the city and with enough checks and balances provided to a City Council to negate the establishment of an out-of-control “Boss Mayor.”

Furthermore, the proposed charter provides for a City Council that can tend without distraction to the business of equal representation, policy-making and legislative leadership — the missing elements in our present system of city governance.

And regardless of the opponents’ blitz of letters and columns miring facts with fiction to persuade the electorate to reject this charter, it deserves to be on the November ballot for the voters to decide.

Under the proposed revised charter, the mayor would be given the authority and responsibility to lead.

Through the leadership of the mayor, city employees with responsibility for departments have assignments, duties and oversight established by the mayor as leader.

Staff is expected to be efficient and effective while enforcing all laws, ordinances and policies of the city, and are evaluated for their efficiency and effectiveness, just as happens in successful corporations and businesses.

To assure that the mayor does not become a “Boss Mayor,” as has been described by members of the Citizens Voice group, appointment and removal of a deputy mayor, chief of staff, auditor and clerk and member of a city board created by the council cannot be appointed or removed by the mayor alone. That can only occur with the approval of the City Council. This would hold true regarding the appointment of department heads as well, but for obvious management reasons, the mayor does not need council approval to remove a poor performing or obstructive department head.

The elected mayor would assume a primary role in fiscal responsibility by being required to submit an annual budget and capital program that becomes effective only when approved and adopted by the City Council.

The Council, however, may without mayoral approval, contract annually with a certified public accountant for an audit of city finances.

Such a system of budget and control with checks and balances promotes accountability so that fraud and incompetence such as has already been alleged in various city grant and housing programs are identified and stopped before the damage is done.

That system would reduce the likelihood of poor fiscal decisions and bungled capital projects, as seen with Lift Station 87 (200% over budget), the State Street Garage (50% over budget) and a wasteful parking meter initiative ($500,000).

And although the mayor would have limited veto authority, like any sane system with checks and balances, the council would have veto override authority.

The proposed revised charter also calls for retaining five council members. The difference is that all five would be from separate districts, giving more citizens access to a representative that understands the needs of the people in that district.

It is not by accident alone that the present City Commission, with its two at-large representatives, has three commissioners from District 2 and one from Districts 1 and 3.

Moreover, of great importance is the proposed revised charter would change a system whereby less than 20% of city voters controls our local elections because they are conducted in March, not with general November elections.

With the proposed charter, candidates for mayor and City Council would stand for election on the same date as for elections of state and county officers.

Friends, colleagues and sometimes strangers ask me why I stand on the corner of State Street and Lemon Avenue on Saturday mornings in the hustle of our great Farmers Market seeking signatures on a petition to put the revised charter with all its strengths on the ballot in November.

I tell them what I have just told you, and I also tell them that it is their choice. I tell them this proposed charter is unlike any previous one. When they say the citizens of Sarasota already rejected this idea, I tell them, “No, you didn’t.” Not this idea.

Read the proposed charter (www.ItsTimeSarasota), and you will see why I do what I do and why you should sign a petition as well as personally ask the city commissioners to support putting this charter on the November ballot.

Peter Fanning is a member of the It’s Time Sarasota charter caucus.



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