City Charter review: Raises for City Council, spending cap up for discussion

City manager’s maximum spending, council term limits also get review by committee

Article Highlights

  • Spending cap to be reviewed again Tuesday morning at Mackle Park
  • “I believe the cap is unconstitutional.” Committee member Monte Lazarus
  • “This is absolutely the wrong time to be suggesting any increase for a public official.” Jack Patterson, Charter Review Committee member

— While participation has been limited, and members of the committee say the changes are “language cleanup,” a new draft of the charter, the document that shapes the city government, is receiving more than minor tweaks.

Among those proposed changes are City Council term limits, an approximate 50 percent council raise, minimizing city manager’s powers to spend money and the one most talked about in city budget planning – an emergency provision in the city’s spending cap.

All changes will go before voters in January and the committee drafting the now 11-year-old charter spent about three hours Tuesday working to ensure the changes on the ballot would be clear and concise.

“This has not been a real barn burner, as far as public interest,” Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee Chairman Jim Riviere said at the start of the meeting.

Most of the changes to the charter involve language clean up, the committee said, although some members felt even minor changes that served no real purpose would only hinder referendum questions, taking away from more important changes.

“I was really taken back by all the changes in here. I don’t remember City Council asking us to rewrite the charter,” committee member Jose Granda said.

Committee member Monte Lazarus argued that the committee had an obligation to look at the entire charter.

“The extensive changes consist of language clean up,” Lazarus said.

The changes were written by City Attorney Alan Gabriel.

“If it isn’t broken, why are we coming up with different words for it. If it needs a change, I will agree in some areas, but this goes beyond that in my view, way beyond that, but like I said, I’m only one out of seven,” Granda said.

The committee agreed to strike any unnecessary changes, after the city attorney pointed out that there was no requirement that they change the charter, because it functions today with the one in place.

“It doesn’t have to be modified,” Gabriel said.

The committee decided to build an imaginary basket of items to shelf as language clean up items, and narrow in on the meaty proposed changes of the charter, such as proposing an increase to the three percent spending cap on annual budget expenditures and better defining term limits for city council seats.

“There could be a dozen questions on the referendum. There won’t be just a vote on the charter changes, there will be several,” Riviere said.

One item still up for debate is language changes to existing modifications for expenditure limitations in Section 1.034 of the city charter, which states that operating expenditures shall be limited to an increase from the prior year’s expenditures of three percent, plus the then-current Federal C.O.L.A.

It doesn’t apply to emergencies, capital expenditures, expenses related to grant, gift or impact fee-funded projects, and debt service payments relating to utility or other accounting purposes.

New proposed language would allow the city council to determine by resolution if an emergency exists under the expenditure limit.

“I believe the cap is unconstitutional,” committee member Monte Lazarus said.

Caps have been found unconstitutional in past court cases involving rewrites of city charters, members said, so the committee will look to City Council on how to proceed.

State attorney generals have issued several opinions over the years and these are available in related links on marconews.com.

Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association President Fay Biles has said she would fight any plans to eliminate the cap and voters will not let it happen.

The members will also review term limits of council members to be two consecutive full terms, not exceeding eight years in office. Because of the staggered cycle of elections, if the language said no more than eight years in office, some council members would have to give up their seat six months early.

The committee will also propose raising the compensation for City Council members from $6,000 to $9,000 per year, with the chairman receiving $12,000 instead of $9,000. The committee would like to see it written in the charter that from that point on, an annual increase would follow based on C.O.L.A. A motion passed 5-1 to propose the change in the charter, rather than by city ordinance.

Member Jack Patterson voted against it. “I don’t want to make any changes at all, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve served as a public official for a whole hell of lot less than this. This is absolutely the wrong time to be suggesting any increase for a public official,” Patterson said.

Member Dick Shanahan disagreed. “I think we started out with a very paltry sum, a very embarrassing sum. We need to build something in there with a meaningful number.”

The city attorney said he will check into whether the changes to salary can take affect immediately, but law dictates, if voters agree to the increase, it can only take effect for the next City Council. Councilors cannot vote to give themselves a raise.

Other items up for discussion included asking the city manager and city attorney to provide language for the charter that would require the city manager to communicate with council any deviations of about 10 percent from budgeted, authorized expenditures.

“In a perfect world, you don’t need any of this, but who knows when you’re in a perfect world,” said committee member Larry Magel.

The Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, which formed in January, will meet again at 9 a.m., Tuesday, at Mackle Park before meeting with city council members to present and workshop the proposed changes at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21.

Staff reporter Kelly Farrell contributed to this report.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 18

happy6 writes:

you gotta' be kidding...raises? change the cap? for crissakes...give the money to the Art League...is anyone other than walduck living off their council salary? and he ain't paying his bills....so let's give walduck a raise and leave the rest alone....and lazzarus...what a complete moron, idiot and anything else you want to come up with..this guy is dangerous! besides being s-----.

playballonK writes:

I think its about time an outside agency(state attny. office, FBI..etc..) is brought in to take a look at monte lazarus and his associations with Marco City Council & staff.

Fossil writes:

This is all about taking the power to govern from our citizens. Monte Lazarus and his friends want to run the city at OUR expense. The "cap" is essential to maintain citizen control over expenses and to control the City Council when it decides to go "off road". Past and present City Councils have shown us that they cannot be trusted to develop a transparent budget and adhere to it. If Emergency provisions are used the Charter should also clearly define what an "emergency expenditure" is and why not spending the money could be devastating to the ENTIRE community. Without such controls the Coucil is likely to deem Waldack's personal fiancial status as an "emergency" requiring taxpayer funding. Our City founders were wise to develop the "cap" and without it, we would likely not be a city.

u2cane writes:

I don't see how in good conscience anyone can consider a raise right now in this economic time. The island would revolt and have every right. Tax increases and raises?? Does anyone pay attention to the current economic situation right now, or are these guys living in a bubble?

smiley writes:

I'd say it's about time for our own Marco Island Tea Party. This is ridiculous.

playballonK writes:

smiley; I like what you're saying.

happy6 writes:

playballonk...i seem to remember we already brought in auditors etc...hired by the same wolves that are in the henhouse now...and all that did was a big NOTHING. i have to think that the council is going to do the right thing here and not give themselves a raise...

smiley writes:

As they have demonstrated in the past, this city council has the same philosophy as Obama, Pelosi and Reid: "We got the votes so we can shove it down their throats"

marcoislandres writes:

Monte Lazarus if the cap is unconstitutional then I suggest we vote on City hood again with out the cap and see how that goes.

JohninMarco writes:

I am tried of the same people making ALL the decisions for this island and not being elected to do so. These are the people who have brought us to economic ruin, chase out good neighbors, and lead us from one mess to the next one. It is clear that no one in the city council is a leader, they just follow these backroom bullies and rubber stamp their decision.

playballonK writes:

Is a Marco Island Tea party such a crazy idea?

marcoredeagle writes:

How can anyone consider the cap to be unconstitutional? What planet do these people live on?

Decisions have consequences ... live with them or leave Marco.

smiley writes:

We own Veterans Park. (Lord knows we paid enough for it). That seems like the appropriate venue for a "TEA Party".
Pick the date.

lauralbi1 writes:

To my fellow bloggers: A couple of comments. First, I do not know the answer, but what do Council members get as pay in Venice, Florida or Naples, Florida or Palm City, Florida. I plan on calling and asking to be better informed on my opinion of an increase. Please provide the info, if you have it. Secondly, a tea party may be a great idea, but I suggest you hold it in one of the corner parks on the Island. You do not want to appear as a pea in a pod at Veteran's Park (unless you mean the park on Collier), as I suspect it may be just the 10 or 20 (certainly less than 100) of you in attendance with Fay Biles.
Ed Issler

smiley writes:

Issler:

Is that why you have such a small store? So it looks like you have a lot of customers?

lauralbi1 writes:

Smiley: Funny, although the store is not mine. I guess the truth hurts and as a result we often find silly, s----- responses like yours, above. Please, prove me wrong. Have the "Tea Party".
By the way, for those of you that wonder why I would want to contact Naples, Venice and Palm City to get information, the first two have the same area and population and utilities as Marco, and the latter is the only other city in Florida with a Spending Cap (or was), even though it is 10%.
Ed Issler

Marconian writes:

Don't know what to really say about this topic other than its strange that the council decides to not give the blue collar folks that work for the city a raise,which is usually a piddly 1%-3% when and if they get them! But the suits and ties get multiple raises and bonuses regularly and now the counsel wants to give there self a 33% raise this group of counselors is slowly loosing my respect.if anyone deserves the raises its the people that work in the trenches not the ones that already have six figure incomes...secondly as far as counsel is concerned what you do is a service to public with a small pay base as a insinuative for that SERVICE not a INCOME so your answer should be (NO RAISE FOR COUNCEL!!!)

dc5799 writes:

Smiley,
Let's start planning a tea party just to shut up that dope Ed. What do we have to lose nothing, we already lost when we elected Arceri, Monty and Ed's clowns.

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