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Scrutinize charter amendment proposals

October 16, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

In addition to deciding three city council seats in the Nov. 3 General Election, Cape Coral voters will consider seven proposed amendments to the City of Cape Coral Charter.

These proposed changes to the city's bedrock governing documents are far from ballot add-ons.

In addition to proposals described as "housekeeping" measures designed to mirror state law, there are proposed changes to provisions previously approved by the voters; a couple of perennials, including an increase to council compensation; and a newbie or two, including one that would provide employee protections in excess of those mandated by federal law.

While we appreciate the efforts of those who served on the Charter Review Commission, we do urge voters to carefully scrutinize the changes proposed as we believe there are some key "Nos" among the bunch.

The proposed amendments, and our recommendations, are:

SECTION 3.01

REFERENDUM

CHARTER AMENDMENT

LIMITING THE AMOUNT OF

SEVERANCE PAYABLE TO

AT-WILL EMPLOYEES OF

THE CITY MANAGER

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter to limit the amount of severance pay upon at-will termination of employment of Assistant City Managers and City Department Heads, from up to four month's salary as is currently provided, to up to four month's salary or an amount otherwise provided by state law, whichever is less.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote YES

While we remain concerned about the potential capriciousness of the charter language that gives the city manager the ability to pay "up to" four months salary instead of a set severance for terminations without cause for top management employees, Cape Coral voters approved that flexibility when the charter was amended in 2011. The current proposal, then, simply assures that the city charter parallels state law, paying either a maximum of four months severance or any state mandated amount for the position, whichever is less. Proponents say this is a housekeeping provision.

We agree and recommend a yes vote for adoption.

SECTION 4.06

REFERENDUM

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT Concerning council's power to override budget line item veto by the mayor

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter to decrease the affirmative vote of Council needed to override a veto by the Mayor of a line item in the City Budget from two thirds of the Council to a majority of the Council present, but in no event less than four members of Council.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote NO

The mayoral line-item veto was incorporated into the city charter in 2007 after voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment. Changing the required two-thirds council majority to override the veto to a simple majority negates the veto authority, intended to flag out-of-line expenditures. It would pull the teeth from the voter-approved veto and we see no benefit.

Vote no on the budget override veto amendment.

***

SECTION 4.08

REFERENDUM

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT RELATING TO THE ANNUAL SALARIES FOR THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter to provide that Council members shall receive an annual salary of $32,600 and the Mayor shall receive an annual salary of $36,600, rather than an amount based upon the number of registered voters each year. The salaries of the City Council and Mayor shall be adjusted annually beginning in January, 2017 by the percentage amount of the Social Security cost of living adjustment.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote NO

Ah, a perennial favorite that's failed more times than a Charlie Brown field goal attempt.

If approved, the charter amendment relating to annual salaries would boost council compensation significantly.

Let us reiterate the information shared in an editorial recommending council not waste ballot space bringing this back to the voters:

The compensation paid to the mayor and council members has been based on the number of registered voters in the city since 1993.

The mayor is paid 20 cents per registered city elector, each council member 17 cents. The number of electors is determined on Nov. 1 of each year and salaries adjusted thereafter.

At last count there were 113,357 registered voters. At 20 cents per voter, the mayor is paid $22,671.40 per year. At 17 cents per voter, each council member is paid $19,270.69. A boost to $36,600 and $32,600 respectively is a big one.

The issue keeps coming up for two reasons: Proponents say paying more will attract 'better" candidates. They also say given the number of hours devoted to the positions, our elected officials "deserve more."

Maybe.

But couple of things:

First, council seats are not intended to be full-time positions. Elected office in the Cape was never intended to be a "job" or a "career" and the time put in for travel, ribbon cuttings, event attendance and the like is by choice, not mandate.

Second, "more money" is seldom a panacea. Nor does it necessarily produce a better result. There certainly are elected positions that "pay more." In terms of candidates attracted, though, the taxpayers have not consistently received a better bang for their buck. We'll let you fill in the blanks here at the district, county or state level.

Vote no on the amendment related to annual salaries.

***

SECTION 4.19

REFERENDUM

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT

To allow the adoption of emergency ordinances

in accordance

with Florida law

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter by replacing the City of Cape Coral's existing regulations and prohibitions for enacting emergency ordinances with the provision that the City may enact emergency ordinances in accordance with state law.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote YES

The emergency ordinances amendment parallels state law and is primarily a housekeeping measure. Vote yes.

***

SECTION 9.03

REFERENDUM

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT DECREASING NUMBER OF

SIGNATURES REQUIRED FOR

INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM PETITIONS

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter by decreasing the number of signatures required for an initiative or referendum petition from fifteen percent (15%) to ten percent (10%) of the total number of qualified electors registered to vote at the last regular city election.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote NO

Like increased council compensation, a proposal to reduce the number of signatures needed for citizen-generated ballot initiatives has had a regular place on the municipal ballot since voters set the level at 15 percent years ago.

And like the proposals for higher compensation, amendments that would significantly reduce the number of signatures needed to bring citizen initiatives to the ballot have failed.

As it should fail again.

Changing the City Charter is akin to changing the Constitution: There should be a significant benefit, and it should not be overly easy.

Cape residents, in fact, have two additional ways to bring changes to the ballot.

One, they can get involved with the Charter Review Commission by either seeking an appointment or by attending the meetings. Two, they can appeal directly to council by gathering any number of like-minded residents who want change. Council has the authority to directly place initiatives on the ballot whether they come via petition, the charter advisory commission or directly from even one resident with the right change in mind.

Vote no on the amendment decreasing the number of signatures required for initiatives and referendums.

***

SECTION 10.02

REFERENDUM

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT CLARIFYING DISCRIMINATORY CLASSES FOR PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES FOR CITY POSITIONS OR APPOINTIVE OFFICES

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter to amend the classes of individuals that cannot be discriminated against with respect to any city position or appointive city administrative office, to add classes not previously prohibited such as color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, age, handicap, marital status, and/ or any other class protected under federal, state or local law.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote NO

On the surface, the proposed charter amendment to protect pretty much every class of existing or would-be city hire who might be discriminated against sounds kind of good.

Who favors discrimination? Certainly not us and probably not you, either.

But a deeper look shows why voters should reject this proposed change.

First, with its "housekeeping" proposals, the charter commission specifically chose language in keeping with state and federal law.

That was wise. Federal and state law, let us point out, are pretty comprehensive on the subject of discrimination and, given its number of employees, certainly those laws apply to the city.

But instead of stating the city will be compliant with state and federal law, the proposed charter language picks among the provisions to emphasize and then adds to the mix.

And therein lies the second and greater concern.

By emphasizing and also broadening the scope of protected classes, the amendment increases the potential for claims of alleged non-compliance or discrimination. This increases the city's liability.

That is not something the city wants. And it is certainly not something the taxpayers need.

Vote no on the amendment clarifying discriminatory classes.

***

SECTION 10.03

REFERENDUM

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT AMENDING THE COMPOSITION OF THE CHARTER REVIEW

COMMISSION

This proposal amends the Cape Coral City Charter to decrease the number of members of the Charter Review Commission appointed by City Council from nine (9) members to seven (7) members, and creating two (2) alternate member positions. Alternate members would be able to participate in all discussions, but may vote only when substituting for an absent regular member.

Shall the above-described amendment to the Charter be adopted?

____ YES _____ NO

Our recommendation: Vote YES

The city is mandated by its charter to convene the Charter Review Commission no less frequently than every six years.

To that end the Cape Coral City Council must appoint nine residents to this advisory board and therein lies the problem.

The city has found it difficult to not only find nine volunteers for the time-consuming task, it's had some difficulty keeping them through the process and, sometimes, of actually having a quorum at the panel's meetings.

By reducing the number of appointees to seven, and creating two alternate positions that only would vote when regular members were absent, the city thinks it will be easier to sit a full commission.

We have no issue with that.

Vote yes on the amendment amending the composition of the Charter Review Commission.

-Breeze editorial

 
 
 

 

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