MARCO ISLAND — Council discussions Monday on proposed changes to the city charter caused a ruckus among residents, council and members of the committee charged with drafting the new document.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker, an attorney, was the first to get upset saying he “went ballistic over what the city attorney (Alan Gabriel) did” with the Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee’s suggestions.
Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association board members were peeved about language to change the city’s spending cap, which currently prohibits the city from increasing spending from one to year to the next by more than 3 percent plus COLA.
The city’s watchdog organization and city officials are waiting on a formal opinion from the office of the highest attorney in the state, which is Attorney General Bill McCollum.
“We’ve gone more than 10 years without looking at this thing and now we spend 10 weeks on it and want to fast track it ... I get very nervous about doing rash things,” said Councilman Jerry Gibson.
He suggested tabling the issue, which council did and then took a break. During that break, members of the Charter Review Committee quit, citing frustration over being tasked by council to make changes and then council seemingly deciding it wasn’t important at this time.
Larry Magel and Joe Granda were among those who quit, but chairman of the Charter Review Committee, Jim Riviere, said it wasn’t formal and the committee is still set to meet 10 a.m., Tuesday, at Mackle Park.
There are seven suggested changes to the City Charter that must be approved by ordinance before Dec. 1 to make it on a January mail-in ballot. If the proposed changes don’t make the January ballot, the next opportunity isn’t until June and is a vote at the ballot box, which Riviere said might garner less voter participation.
Nonetheless, Riviere said there wasn’t anything in the charter that required immediate changes.
Recker and Gabriel verbally jousted over one of the seven ballot items.
Gabriel advised against portions of a provision in the charter which would allow council the power to investigate any city official, department or agency. Thompson and Gabriel cited portions of the charter which give the city manager and not council control over personnel and city operations.
Recker was peeved that Gabriel’s language would allow council, on a vote of five out of seven council members, to direct the city manager to investigate people or departments.
“We can do that now,” Recker said.
Gabriel also had said he did not think it was legally advisable to approve the proposed amendment in the city charter which would require expenses of $12 million or more to be made by ordinance only. He had said it would cause a legal problem with the way the city’s septic tank replacement program is financially run, which includes setting up the STRP districts by resolution rather than by ordinance.
After council tabled the issue in a 5-2 vote, councilmen Wayne Waldack and Gibson brought the issue back.
While the question remained of whether it was too rushed, problems with the provision to change the spending cap reared its head for MITA members, Councilman Bill Trotter and residents.
Gibson had said the language to amend the spending cap to be based on 2008 spending levels needed to be cleared up when the issue came before council earlier and some still found the language baffling.
The intent at the Charter Review Committee meetings was to set 2008 as the base year because it was the first year Marco had spent less than their spending cap allowed. This provision would allow the city to spend less than the cap, as they did in Fiscal 2009 and 2010, and then, when the economy improves, to not calculate the spending cap based on the years where the budget went down and instead to only base it on the year when the spending cap continued to be raised by 3 percent plus COLA.
“It’s not necessary,” said MITA President Fay Biles. She said the spending cap works in both good economic times and bad.
The city has not yet heard back from the attorney general on whether an amendment to the spending cap would likely hold up in court.
Other proposed changes include:
- General administrative changes to “clean up” language.
- City Council member term limits of no more than eight years beginning 2014.
- Council member raises of 50 percent, or up from $6,000 to $9,000 annually, and a 33 percent raise for the Chairman of $9,000 up to $12,000 annually.
- City manager must advise council of any anticipated deviation from authorized expenditures of 10 percent or $250,000, which ever is more restrictive.
Council voted 6-1 to approve the ordinance with Gibson voting “no.” The ordinance will need to be approved on a second reading before the seven questions can be put out to voters.