The newly formed Charter Review Committee, (CRC), met for the first time March 2.
The importance of this committee, and its eventual recommendations to City Council, cannot be overstated. Their scope of study can range from a complete change in form of government to defining expenditures and procedures to even modifying voters’ rights.
Marco Island and its residents will very likely be affected by the recommendations of the seven members appointed to review our charter. Perhaps that’s why it was a little disappointing to notice that apparently, only one of the seven appointed members was a resident completely independent of the city administration. That was Mr. David Rush, appointed by Councilor Kiester. The remaining six, to my mind, were already attached in some form or another, to the city political process such as Board of Realtors, Code Enforcement, Planning Board, Parks & Recreation, etc.
This is not a criticism, but merely an interesting observation. The CRC members also included, of course, the omnipresent Monte Lazarus, whose purpose in life, seemingly, is to get appointed to every possible Marco Island advisory committee or board. Lazarus’ civic devotion is quite extraordinary in every sense of the word. It’s also noteworthy that Lazarus is a zealous opponent of Marco’s spending cap, despite the fact that this unique limitation on government spending is what reportedly influenced voters to approve cityhood in 1997.
On Monday, at Lazarus’ suggestion, the CRC singled out the charter’s Section 1.03 — “Expenditure Limitations,” a.k.a. the cap, for consideration at a future meeting. We can dependably expect the spending cap to come under attack by Mr. Lazarus and at least two other CRC members at that time.
In contrast, it would seem more reasonable to respect the voters’ stated approval of our spending cap as a condition to becoming a city. Because of its role in the founding of our city, the spending cap ought to be considered sacred and protected against attacks by big-spender politicians and their lobbyists.
In other areas, there has been some talk about changing Marco from a city manager/council to a mayoral form of government. Interestingly, mayors traditionally can and often will hire an executive assistant, who in reality is a city manager, despite the different title. This can essentially duplicate what we now have on Marco, that is, an unelected, hired employee enjoying exceptional influence in local government with minimal or no accountability to the people. Regardless of whether a community has a strong mayor, weak mayor, or council/manager type of administration, the charter ultimately is what really governs. That’s why the deliberations and recommendations of this CRC should be of serious concern to all Marco residents.
After 10 years of operation under the present council/manager charter, following are some areas of possible improvements. I respectfully submit them for the consideration of the reader as well as of the Charter Review Committee:
1. City manager accountability: Currently, voters must depend on possibly prejudiced or emotionally charged councilors for all evaluations of their hired city manager. To protect the public against this possible bias, some form of city manager direct accountability to voters should be provided, i.e. public vote of confidence concurrent with council elections with commensurate reward or consequence.
2. City manager compensation: Currently, City Council has no limit in assigning compensation amounts to the city manager. One councilor once said council could give the city manager a million dollar salary if council so wished! As in many governmental positions, some form of reasonable pay structure should be provided. Bonus amounts, if any, should also contain a salary percentage limitation.
3. City manager authority: Currently the city manager enjoys authority to spend $100,000 without council approval. This amount should be reduced considerably.
4. City clerk: Currently, the city clerk is hired and fired at the will of the city manager. To discourage, perhaps, a misplaced loyalty, this employment responsibility should be transferred to City Council, exactly as is the employment of the city attorney and city manager.
5. Emergency: The spending cap doesn’t apply to certain expenditures including emergencies. However, to avoid its frivolous use, a strict definition of “emergency” as applicable to spending CAP exemptions must be provided. For example “Emergency: An unexpected or sudden event that threatens life or property.”
6. Ordinances vs. resolutions: Currently Article VI of the charter provides for the public’s right to challenge an adopted or proposed ordinance. This provision should be amended to include resolutions as well as ordinances. As it is now, the public cannot challenge a resolution passed by the council, which is unreasonable and un-American. Resolutions should not be immune to voter opinion. For purposes of Article VI only, resolutions should be considered synonymous to ordinances. In all other instances, the administrative benefits of resolutions (mainly timeliness), remain honored.
The reader will note by now that most of these suggestions aim towards improving the city charter by placing more decisive power in the hands of the voters and their elected councilors than the existing charter currently allows. Also, some of these suggestions might be regarded by “good old boy” mentalities as too radical to accept. However, these ideas are really no more radical than was the spending cap when it too was initially proposed. When Islanders approved the unique spending cap, we showed ourselves to be much like America’s 1776 founders; leaders in governmental innovation, not simple imitators. Regardless of varying opinions, I think we can all agree that the concept is one of basic American principles, and worthy of the CRC’s attention, can we not?