- October 14, 2021
Later this year, a group of residents will come together to examine the city’s charter and debate opportunities to revise the document that defines the functions of the local government.
The city is obligated to convene a Charter Review Committee every 10 years, with each commissioner tapping two individuals to serve on the 10-member advisory board. Elected officials were required to submit their picks by July 1, and the City Commission will finalize the makeup of the committee in a resolution at a future meeting.
The commission’s appointees have a variety of backgrounds, some of which are overlapping: two former city commissioners, two executives at local companies, two board members of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association.
The Charter Review Committee is given broad leeway to consider and propose opportunities to amend the document.
When the last review process concluded in 2011, the committee made seven major recommendations for revisions to the charter, including increasing city commissioner salaries, mandating a referendum prior to bond issues for tourism facilities and requiring at-large commission candidates to run for a specific seat.
After the committee has completed its work, the City Commission has the authority to consider the recommended changes and, if desired, advance proposed amendments to a referendum for voter consideration. In 2012, the electorate approved some of the recommended changes, such as requiring a supermajority vote to approve contracts with terms longer than 10 years. Others, including the removal of a provision requiring certain employers to pay a rate above minimum wage if they receive a city subsidy, failed to garner 50% of the vote.
On June 7, the City Commission established the timeframe the Charter Review Committee will have to conduct its work, asking the advisory board to prepare a report for discussion at a March 7, 2022 meeting. Although City Attorney Robert Fournier asked the commission if it had any specific subjects it wanted the committee to focus on, commissioners declined to provide direction.
“I’d like to give them a clean slate and crack at it,” Mayor Hagen Brody said.
Commissioner Erik Arroyo highlighted one potential topic of interest for the committee: an elected mayor position. During his 2020 run for the City Commission, Arroyo expressed support for establishing a referendum to convert the city from a ceremonial appointed mayor position to an elected mayor.
“I chose my people because I see eye to eye with them in terms of an elected mayor, in terms of what the duties of the city should be, in terms of checks and balances,” Arroyo said.
The city has seen multiple failed attempts to create an elected mayor position. In 2011, the Charter Review Committee decided not to recommend such a referendum after three previous measures did not garner support from a majority of voters.
Some prospective members of the committee have publicly staked out positions on the question of an elected mayor. Peter Fanning, a Liz Alpert appointee, was a member of It’s Time Sarasota, a group that proposed a revised charter in 2014 built around an elected mayor position. Eileen Normile and Cathy Antunes, both Jen Ahearn-Koch appointees, were members of The Citizens Voice, a committee that formed in opposition to that 2014 proposal.
Normile said she isn’t entering the charter review process with specific changes she’s intent on pursuing, instead stating she is eager to hear from the other members. Normile said she hopes to draw on her experience in local civics — which includes time as president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association and member of the Planning Board — as she considers opportunities to revise the charter.
“It makes me really happy that I’ve had all of these opportunities to hear from citizens of the city in those different capacities,” Normile said.
Ahearn-Koch said she wanted to pick residents who were already familiar with the charter and knowledgable about the workings of city government. She expressed enthusiasm about the other commissioners’ appointees and said she’s looking forward to being a part of the charter review process.
“I think it’s going to be a very well rounded conversation,” Ahearn-Koch said.