Guest Commentary: March 16 remarks to the charter review committee

A caveat: I have not spent a great deal of time studying chapter and verse of the city’s current city charter, so my remarks as follows are general in nature.

Checks and balances: I would like this committee to investigate the pros and cons of moving to a “strong mayor” form of government where the separately elected mayor would have veto power over city council legislation with an override provision by a super majority vote of the City Council.

Personally, I would love to see our mayor and City Council duke it out over our local television network. Many residents have told me that it is the best show in town. This change would make it even more popular and, more importantly, keep our citizens involved and interested in island issues.

Our current form of government has allowed too many controversial expensive city projects to go forward on a 4-3 vote. Other alternatives are as follows: (1) require a super majority of City Council vote on projects costing over a certain amount ($1 million?); or (2) require a citywide referendum for projects costing over $xxx million.

Personally, I would prefer the former of the two options listed since referendums are slow and expensive. The second option would definitely (in my opinion) require emergency powers to be given to the city manager and/or a simple majority of the City Council. In that case, the charter would need to be very specific as to what constitutes “an emergency.”

Taxation without representation: I would also like this committee to investigate the possibility of allowing property owners who are not residents to vote in local elections. Given their contribution (backbone, more so than tourists) to the island’s economy, they have more than earned a right to vote since the State’s Homesteading Laws result in their paying more in property taxes. Even the State Legislature has acknowledged this as a problem by reducing the increase in taxable value to 10 percent a year for second-homers while we residents continue to face only 3 percent. Now, the governor is suggesting a reduction to 5 percent in recognition of their contribution to the state’s economy which if enacted will certainly help the situation.

In any event, a move to allow second-homers the right to vote in local elections would give us a competitive advantage over Naples and other communities in Southwest Florida in attracting/retaining second homers.

City manager functions and powers: One of the most controversial positions in local government. First and foremost, the city manager (or mayor if we change to a strong mayor form of local government) should be required to clearly delineate both the pros and cons of all issues presented to the City Council and make recommendations based on the evaluations and not based on his/her reading of what would please the majority of the City Council.

Along these same lines, in order to gain approval of the majority of the City Council, it is over the top and unprofessional for a city manager to disparage the so-called “vocal minorities” in commentaries to the press or in other public forums — after all, isn’t that what democracy is all about? On the other hand, a mayor would be open to recall or voted out of office at the next election if he/she breaches this etiquette.

In terms of power, the charter currently limits expenditures that the city manager can make including change orders without city council approval to $100,000. I would suggest that the charter review committee consider requiring the manager to immediately notify all councilors of his/her decision and that any 2 or 3 councilors (not just the chairman) can call a special meeting in order to have the full City Council review the decision and either support or change his/her decision. Other options would be to establish lower dollar amounts for both contracts and changes thereto, or require all contracts involving capital improvements be brought to the council for action regardless the amount. Perhaps the forensic audit committee will have some recommendations on this issue once that committee has completed its work.

Fiscal restraint: Normally, given my education and experience in local government issues, I would fall on the side of leaving all restraints on spending to an elected government body, after all they were elected to make decisions on the collection and expenditure of revenues received through taxation or otherwise (Civics 101). However, after witnessing in person for the first time the potential a spending CAP could have, I have changed my mind on the need to place fiscal restraints on elected officials (federal, state or local). Too many poor, in my opinion, decisions have been and continue to be made by elected officials at all levels of government due to incompetence, misunderstandings or “deals” (scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours). Therefore, I support the continuation of Marco’s 3 percent cap on expenditures with some changes to tighten up loopholes which have allowed previous councils and administrations to circumvent the cap, e.g., the establishment of enterprise funds.

The obvious solution in this case is to include enterprise funds and special assessments under the cap. A caveat: The decision of former councils to base the 3 percent cap on budgeted funds as opposed to actual expenditures is necessary due to the overlap of projects from one fiscal year to another.

I’ve had one suggestion which I will pass on to you is that the city should also consider a limitation (or cap) on the collection of revenues. I’m not sure I agree that this action is necessary since (1) state law already provides limitations on mileage rates that can be imposed by local governments on their property owners; and (2) I believe the cap on expenditures, once corrected, will provide sufficient limitations on both the city administration and the City Council.

Finally, I am concerned a CAP on revenues may adversely affect the city’s ability to establish sufficient reserves to deal with emergencies, e.g., the aftermath of hurricanes and also replenish necessary “repair and replacement” funds for bridges and other needs, which at some point in the future, will ultimately be needed to fund their specific purpose.

Thank you for offering me this opportunity to comment on important issues that I feel need to be addressed in the operations of our city government.

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Comments » 1

happy6 writes: a council member why in the world would you and all the rest not understand the city charter? you have got to be kidding...this issue comes up constantly...what am i missing here? is this a joke or what?

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