Modified commission wards proposed

Bradenton Beach charter review
Mayor John Chappie, right, shares his insight on city matters with City Attorney Ricinda Perry and attending Charter Review Committee members Anne Leister, Mary Bell and Randy Milton. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – The Charter Review Committee (CRC) reached consensus on several items during its Monday, July 9 meeting.

Members Debra Cox, Anne Leister, Dan Morhaus and Randy Milton support a potential charter amendment that would create two City Commission wards.

Cox and Morhaus participated in Monday’s meeting by phone.

If placed on the ballot by the City Commission and approved by city voters, this amendment would create a two-ward system with two commissioners being elected from a north ward by north ward voters only, two commissioners being elected from a south ward by south ward voters only and an at-large mayor elected citywide. The exact ward boundaries would need to be clarified, but the Cortez Bridge has been mentioned as a possible dividing line.

The four geographically based commission wards established in the 1950s were eliminated by city voters last year in support of a charter amendment proposed by the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Committee (CNOBB) group. In that system, candidates were ward-specific, but all city voters were allowed to vote in all commission races.

As they did during their two previous meetings, Cox, Leister and Milton first expressed support for a return to the four-ward system, but they compromised on the proposed two-ward system after debating whether the two wards would allow for citywide voting or ward-specific voting.

Chair Mary Bell opposed returning to a ward system due to her ongoing concerns about Bradenton Beach’s shrinking population and the increased difficulty in finding commission candidates.

Morhaus said he saw no point in returning to a four-ward system or creating a two-ward system in which voters from one ward would help determine the winners in another ward. He said limiting the votes to the ward-specific residents would create parochial representation if that was the intent.

Cox and Leister said they like the wards because it helps preserve that Old Florida and neighborhood feel. Milton said he likes having a representative that he knows and that knows his neighborhood.

If the City Commission places the two-ward charter amendment question on the fall ballot, city voters will determine whether wards are restored in a modified form.

City Manager

The committee members again unanimously opposed a charter amendment that would require the city to hire a full-time city manager as proposed by the Keep Our Residential Neighborhood (KORN) political action committee.

KORN treasurer John Metz questioned a statement Bell made at the previous meeting regarding a city manager costing an estimated $200,000 a year in salary and benefits. Metz estimated the total cost to be closer to $120,000 to $140,000, which he said is about what Police Chief Sam Speciale earns.

Morhaus said he didn’t see the benefit in hiring a city manager and Bell said the committee’s collective opposition was based more on the lack of an actual need for a manager than it was on dollars and cents.

Parking garage

The committee unanimously supports a citywide prohibition on multi-level parking garages, but upon the advice of the city attorney agreed that the city charter is not the right place to address those desires because state law no longer allows land use matters to be decided by voter referendum.

City Planner Alan Garrett told the members about the Planning and Zoning Board and City Commission’s efforts to adopt two city ordinances that would prohibit parking garages citywide by amending the comprehensive plan’s future land use map and the city’s land development code.

Metz noted ordinance changes could be undone by a future commission, whereas a charter amendment could only be reversed by city voters.

Commission candidate Tjet Martin suggested there at least be a requirement for a four-fifths supra-majority commission vote to undo ordinance-enacted parking garage prohibitions. Perry said the charter already requires a four-fifths commission vote to amend the comp plan.

Residency

The committee unanimously supports requiring City Commission candidates to be registered voters – a requirement city voters eliminated last fall when supporting a CNOBB amendment that also reduced candidate residency requirements from two years to one.

The committee supports the one-year residency requirement but also feels commission candidates should be registered city voters for at least one year before seeking office. Milton said CRC members are required to be city voters and the same should apply to commission members.

Regarding the City Commission’s request to better define residency, the committee recommends an amendment that would require commission candidates to prove their residency by providing at least three of following items that include a Bradenton Beach address: a county-issued voter registration card, a Florida driver license or state ID, a declaration of domicile that includes a residency date, a bank statement, a property tax bill, a long-term lease or a federal tax return.

The Charter Review Committee expects to meet once or twice more to conclude its work.