MARCO ISLAND — 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.