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Charter review points seek public comment

September 2, 2015
By Jay Light , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The next steps in the town's Charter Review process are coming up at a joint Council/Charter Review Commission work session on Sept. 9, at 10 a.m. and at the second public hearing at the Sept. 21 Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. That's when the Council makes the final decision of whether to put all, some or none of the Commission's recommendations on the ballot for the March 2016 election.

Some of the recommendations are simple housekeeping cleaning up redundancies, or in some instances, discrepancies. Others delete obsolete language dating back to the town's incorporation. There's also some stuff that just doesn't have to be there because it's already covered in general law.

However, there are several much bigger issues, like lengthening council terms from three to four years, keeping or eliminating term limits, the ability of the town to incur long-term debt and a pay raise for Council members. A couple of other proposals insure that really big decisions require three of five council votes. The current wording permits just three members to constitute a quorum at a meeting and therefore just two votes could fire the manager or make other game-changing choices for the town.

Amazingly, there's currently nothing in the Charter that keeps a council member from moving thousands of miles away and keeping his/her seat on the Council as long as they attend the meetings. That, too, has been addressed.

All of this could end up making the ballot pretty long and cumbersome, since, as attorney Derek Rooney advised, every issue has to be a separate question and you cannot legally change a comma without a referendum.

Mayor Anita Cereceda appears to be in favor of eliminating some of the lesser-impact proposals to streamline the ballot. Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros stated that she trusts the voters to figure it out and favors putting the whole list of 22 recommendations to a vote. Both points of view have merit, and it will be interesting to see what the Council decides. I tend to agree with Hosafros and hope that her trust in the voters turns out to be warranted.

Everyone involved in the process has expressed the hope that, above all, the voters will take this seriously and be well-informed when they cast their ballots.

It isn't hard to do; all it takes is a little time. Go to the town website . Right there, on the Home Page, under "Island Updates" is "Charter Review Commission Recommendations." Click on it. On the next page are three links the cover letter to the Council, the existing charter with the changes color-coded, and the actual worksheets the Commission used which show the existing language, the proposed changes as well as the rationale, both pro and con, in arriving at the proposals. My own opinion is that the last link would be the most informative.

The work session on Sept. 9 and the council meeting on Sept. 21 are the public's last chance to sound off in any official way before any of these questions go to a referendum in March. A spirited debate about all this can only be a good thing. Prove me right and get informed.

Jay Light is a member of the Charter Review Commission.



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