Guest Commentary: One resident’s thoughts on charter review

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?

Thank you.

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Comments » 10

loscabos writes:

The stage is being set for another showdown over the Spending Cap. It will be interesting to see if the council will allow another up or down vote by the voters; or will they enact the Citys' Power as stated in article one. This allows them to do anything in the universe under the guise of "emergency." Don't need to let the voter get involved at all. Me thinks its headed that way!

August8 writes:

'NO-No-No'

The above do "Not" appear to be good answers for this city????????????
I would say that Marco is the very type of City that would benifit from a strong Mayor form of administration, you would accomplish all of the above through political means, just think about it!!! Keep the manager to manage, hold the Mayor accoutable for the results, c'mon look at it!!!

Fossil writes:

I agree with Russ, the spending cap will be challenged as never before. Citizens need to gear up to protect it. I agree with August8, a strong politicaly appointed Mayor would go a long way to improve accountability. Along with that thought, shoot for direct accountablity by reducing the number of Councilors to six. Establish six political districts with the intent of providing more representation to full time residents and homeowners. Currently, the hotel, time-share, condo rental and commercial areas of our community enjoy unfair representation. Most condo owners will vote the way their condo associations recommend because the owners depend on their condo administrators to look out for them. As landlords and property owners that is optimal, however it presents an unfair advantage to have thousands of absentee landlords electing our officials for us. These ideas of course will not sit well with the current elected officials as so many of them were promoted by the good ole boys that have figured out how to game elections on Marco Island.

lauralbi1 writes:

It is no surprise that Fossil agrees with Mr. Columbo as they are cut from the same mold and wish the same for Marco Island's future. They seem to be so determined that they would have registered voters be heard only on the basis of their yearly longevity on the Island. If someopne chooses to be registered to vote here on Marco, their vote is as important as anyones, whether they live here full time or not. After all, they pay taxes here. Fossill and Mr. Columbo, being childish and frustrated as they do not represent a majority of the voters on Marco, are trying to devise a way to "get their way". Gerrymandering has been around a long time. What they also fail to tell you is that we are now behind the "eight ball" as far as having lowered our reevenue and spending, which will impact the budgets for years to come. But that is the reason to maintain the Emergency Provisions, as Bridge repairs that may come up are currently classified as Emergencies (or can be if Coucil so finds).
Anyway, the right people are running the City and a seven member Council is perfect for the majority. As always, there are some who will not be satisfied with anything, so we have to act without their buy-in.
Ed Issler

Fossil writes:

I am proud to be associated with Mr. Columbo. He is a true American. One who served his country. A man who believes in Government by the people for the people not the other way around. You sir, represent the commercial interests of our community. Either you do not understand how an open, transparent and representitive government functions or you are only concerned with preserving your own self-interests. Representation by an at large committee of elected officials is very similar to that which was practiced in Moscow under communism. The Politburo was elected also. It was the the principal policy-making and executive committee of the Communist party. It was acocuntable to the leadership that promoted it's membership, not to the people. Same as on Marco Island. Group think for the whole community with no direct accountability to the portion of the community they are tasked with representing. lauralbi1, I am proposing only tht if you were elected to represent your neighborhood on Marco Island, you would be directly accountable to your neighbors. Our current Charter falls far short of giving our community a real representitive govnment. It serves those commercial interests on Collier Blvd more then it does the people who actually live here. I remind you that not only do many of the property owners on Collier Blvd. not actually live here but those who have small business enterprises do not either.

lauralbi1 writes:

Fossill: Once again you have let emotion interfere with rational thinking. To read your expose above, one would think that this was the European Union or something like that. We are a true Democracy and for you to imply anything else is sheer "self interest" ranting and raving. For it is you and Mr. Columbo that seem to be on the losing side of Democracy in the elections and it is you that are trying to manipulate the allocation of voting so that you and your minority cronies can attempt to achieve the desired results of the minority of Voters (I repeat voters). In other words, how can you fix the voting to change a Democracy into minority control. No matter how much you spew venom and emotion, one man one vote forms the basis of any Democracy. I guess you still support the Electoral College that was formed due to the lack of communication that existed in the 1700's and 1800's and has now lost it's usefulness. Well, we do not need a form of Electoral College or districting on Marco Island. We can communicate just fine !! Again, the people that vote here have every right to vote here and everyone's vote is as important as yours, believe it or not !!!
Ed Issler

Fossil writes:

lauralbi1: You attempt to distract from the issues I presented. The fact remains that elected officials at large have no real constitutents. As indivduals, they do not answer to any neighborhood in the community they serve. They need only be accountable to those good ole' boys that promoted them into office. Rarely has any Marco Island City Council ever come to closure with anything but a four to three vote. Surely, even you can see that important issues that impact the entire community should be made with a unanimous vote. What we have is NOT representive democracy. What we have is dictatorship by committee.

lauralbi1 writes:

Fossill: The issue is a fabrication of your position here on the Island. You wish to "blame" some group of "good ole boys" when, in fact, your slate of candidates in the last election had more money, did more advertising and had more grass roots bodies than the slate that won. You are not willing to admit that a majority of the 13,000 registered voters on this small Island wanted nothing to do with the future that your candidates had to offer. Where could you possibly think that a unanimous vote could have any application in a Democratic form of Government. That concept, I'm sorry to say, is absolutely ludicrous. As I said before, and my position stands, we DO HAVE REPRESENTATIVE Democracy in our form of Government. You are just unhappy that our future is not how you see it. I am certain, after the next election, that the votes on the Council will be more to your liking and will be more 7-0 than 4-3. I see changes in the Council as far as Mr. Kiester is concerned. Mr. Forcht is a good guy and I see him staying if he runs again. But I see candidates that have the same vision for Marco Island as the 4 that were elected last time, being elected to the Council. Again, the majority of voters will decide, and that's the way it is whether you like it or not.
Ed Issler

August8 writes:

????lauralbi1?????? Any chance you and Fossil can resolve this on the phone??????????

deltarome writes:

Ed, name one person who is happy with our tax and spend council that is not artificially paying a low property tax!
The last election was won by those that convinced the condo owners and those already on sewer that if the rest of the island wasn't forced to be on sewer, the present sewer users would be forced to pay a higher amount to fund the sewer plant upgrades.
We will see what happens when the next council elections come up. i can't wait for the do nothings like Popoff and Spenders like most of rest of them, do then.

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