MARCO ISLAND — Several days after members of the Charter Review Committee had temporarily quit and a Councilman had become irate with changes, those involved with proposed ballot questions to change the City Charter regrouped Tuesday.
Avoiding another possible contentious issue, the committee voted not to recommend Council raises as was initially proposed.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker was upset on Oct. 19 about changes made by Alan Gabriel, the city’s attorney, to the charter document, and Tuesday, Monte Lazarus of the charter review committee, echoed Recker’s sentiments.
Lazarus called what occurred a “shock and surprise to members of the ad hoc committee.”
Gabriel changed recommended committee language on the spending cap, city council abilities to investigate city employees and a requirement for projects that cost more than $12 million to be approved by Ordinance.
Lazarus wrote a letter to urge Council ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Charter Committee Chairman Jim Riviere didn’t initially want to vote on the matter, but on Gabriel’s urging that he must unless he has a conflict, Riviere made the vote of approval unanimous with other members.
“Only because I have no reason to censor anyone’s mail whether inbound or outbound,” Riviere said.
Gabriel declined to comment on what occurred, however City Clerk Laura Litzan, standing beside Gabriel at the time, explained that part of the problem was that normally, the recommended changes to the charter would be presented to Council at a workshop, so Gabriel would have had the opportunity to explain some of his legal concerns rather than change the language in the first reading of the ordinance.
There was no workshop opportunity because of constraints on Council meeting times and the desire of the committee to give Council the opportunity to get Charter changes out to voters in January, rather than in a less participatory primary election in August.
Council approved the ordinance and recommended that language be returned to the committee’s initial intentions.
Gabriel and the committee worked together Tuesday to make those changes and address the legal concerns.
Councilman Jerry Gibson had said at the previous Council meeting that the City Charter, which is an approximate 15-page document outlining the form of city government and operations, had gone more than 10 years without a thorough review and shouldn’t be rushed.
Committee member Jack Patterson said the committee has met over the course of nine months at least 14 times and has not rushed their review.
Lazarus said he did not support Council raises at this time based on perception and Patterson, who opposed the idea since its inception, quickly agreed.
“They’re getting a 50 percent increase and a 30 percent increase at a time when the economy is in the bucket,” concurred committee member Dave Rush.
The proposal was for an increase for the chairman from $9,000 to $12,000 and an increase for remaining council members of $6,000 to $9,000, beginning 2011, with COLA increases each year after.
Committee member Joe Granda said making up for the cost of living was fair for a job that required extensive amounts of time.
In a vote of 4-3, the Charter review committee recommended Council not approve a ballot question on Council salary increases.
The five remaining substantive issues recommended by the committee to be put on the ballot in the form of a yes or no question are:
The spending cap, which limits spending to no more than 3 percent plus COLA more than the previous year, will remain and be amended to allow Council to set 2008 as the base year and add 3 percent plus COLA for each year after.
So, if in 2011, the economy recovers and the city would like to make up for having spent under the spending cap in 2009 and 2010, then instead of the 2011 maximum allowed spending budget to be based on 2010 plus 3 percent plus COLA, Council could use 2008 figures.
So, if in 2008 the city spent $20 million, then to figure the 2011 spending cap, $20 million plus 3 percent plus COLA for 2009, plus 3 percent plus COLA for 2010 would give Council the number they could spend up to.
The intent is to not cause what Lazarus described as a “death spiral” where the city has almost no money to operate and to take away a potential disincentive that Council spend up to the cap just so they don’t lose the ability to raise the money in a future year.
Large expenses to be approved by ordinance
Any expense that costs more than $12 million will be approved by ordinance. The ongoing septic tank replacement program, which is currently operated by passing resolutions, will be exempted. Two or three other current projects, such as waste water treatment plant upgrades, may be added to the list by City Manager Steve Thompson before this issue goes to Council for a second reading on Nov. 9.
The reason for the change is that ordinances allow residents to contest the projects by petitioning 10 percent of voters and resolutions don’t allow that.
Council to have shorter term limits
Beginning with the 2014 election, no council member shall serve more than 8 years or two full, consecutive, four-year terms. Riviere said this was similar to other cities and would “allow fresh blood” to hold a seat.
City manager to report budget deviations
The city manager will promptly communicate to council any budget deviations of $250,000. The intent of this change is to avoid a project, such as the Collier Boulevard Reconstruction Project, from costing millions more than anticipated and the deviation taking years to be reported.
Council may investigate city staff and departments
A vote of five out of seven city council members may launch an investigation into any city employee or department and that investigation may be performed by whoever council wishes to delegate it to.