Charter Review Committee Recommendations Met With Much Debate
The Safety Harbor City Commission meets at 7:30 tonight, and although the agenda looks pretty light, one item from the last meeting could come up again for discussion.
During the Nov. 3 commission meeting, members of the Charter Review Committee highlighted a number of recommendations they made for amendments to the city’s charter.
While many of the changes were minor and grammatical in nature, others were more substantive, such as adding a preamble and clarifying ethics and conflict of interest clauses.
But the amendments that made the biggest impression on the commission, and led to the biggest discussion, had to do with term limits for board members and instituting a residency requirement for Safety Harbor’s city manager.
“The committee wished to establish a goal to clearly state intent that there was a preference for the city manager to reside in the city as a commitment to the city and its residents,” CRC chair Robin Fornino explained regarding Article III, Section 41.
“The language that we provided provides the city commission with full authority to waive the requirement, so it is no way limiting your authority as a commission.”
“Article V, Section 63 places a term limit on advisory board members of two full terms requiring a break from service of one year prior to being reappointed and provides for an exception if no qualified applications are received,” she continued.
“We wanted to provide for full citizen participation in all boards and committees,” Fornino added. “It removes any appearance of entrenched membership or favoritism in appointed boards and ensure full consideration of all applicants in popular boards.”
Both recommendations led to some debate among the commissioners, specifically in regards to the wording the CRC used.
“You’re explaining concepts on how the commission should make a decision. I think the charter should be more absolutes,” Commissioner Carlos Diaz said. “Either it’s absolutely two terms, point blank, or residency, point blank, and that’s it.”
“The intent of the charter is that the city manager reside in the city,” Commissioner Andy Zodrow said. “Typically I don’t like to have language, we call it dicta, that doesn’t mean anything because it doesn’t bind the commission.”
“But with the advisory board, it does say “no qualified applications”, and that’s not complete discretion. So I think there is a difference.”
After receiving some clarification from the city attorney on the requirements for some city boards, Mayor Andy Steingold opened the subject up to the public, and one resident said he agreed with Commissioner Diaz regarding the wording.
“The city charter is really supposed to be about hard-coded absolutes,” local business owner Jim Barge said.
“To put in a conditional statement, I think it essentially every time you have a change in the commission, it opens it up for debate. Instead of being hard-coded into the charter, it changes along with the political winds.”
CRC member Glen McKinney said he actually agreed with Barge, admitting he “struggled with the language,” but he explained the committee was basing its decision on recommendations made by the city attorney.
Following more discussion on the topic, the commission eventually gave its approval to move forward with the recommendations, which will be included in an ordinance to be voted on during the city’s next election in March.
But when the commissioners gave their consensus on all the items up for discussion, Mayor Steingold weighed in once again on the city manager amendment.
“I would typically say no because I think it’s tough to put that requirement in there even though it gives us the opportunity to make a decision,” he said.
“Nonetheless, all we’re deciding on is if it goes on the ballot or not, we’re not making a decision to vote for or against it. I’ll agree to put that on the ballot.”