Petition drives start in Bradenton Beach

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The Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) group is conducting a petition drive in hopes of getting three charter amendment questions placed on the November ballot.

CNOBB members want city voters to eliminate the four geographically-defined city commission wards that require one commissioner come from each ward in addition to an at-large mayor. They also want to reduce candidate residency requirements from two years to one.

The third proposed amendment addresses the City Commission’s ability to interpret, define or clarify the city charter. The charter serves as the city’s constitution in terms of how the city is governed. The charter can only be amended by city voters.

During the Thursday, Aug. 3, CNOBB steering committee meeting at the Pines Trailer Park, member Reed Mapes provided copies of the petition forms to be finalized and distributed to as many registered city voters as possible.

Voting wards to be eliminated

CNOBB steering committee member Reed Mapes presents petition initiative forms to his fellow committee members. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

The ballot summary for eliminating voting wards says: “In recent elections, several wards have been unable to produce any candidates for commissioner. This amendment will produce more qualified and interested candidates for commission races.

“All wards would be eliminated. Commissioners would be elected at large as terms expire or vacancies occur. The candidate receiving the highest number of votes will be elected first; the candidate with the second highest number of votes will be elected second, and so on, until all vacancies are filled.”

Eliminating commission wards could result in the City Commission consisting of multiple members from the same neighborhood, mobile home park, condominium complex or end of town.

Residency requirements shortened

The ballot summary for reducing residency requirements says: “Reducing the residency requirement for candidates will provide more qualified candidates for city offices. In recent elections, we have had few candidates available; and in some cases, no candidates at all. A one-year residency requirement has been held constitutional by a Florida court.”

Last year, city voters supported increasing the residency requirement from nine months to two years.

Charter interpretation clarified

The ballot summary language pertaining to charter interpretation by the City Commission is the most opinionated of the three: “The charter is our local constitution. Occasionally, commission majorities seek to redefine or interpret the charter to advance their own objectives without regard to a public consensus of the public good.”

This proposed amendment is partially inspired by a commission-initiated ordinance adopted by 3-1 vote in 2016. The ordinance clarifies the commission’s understanding of the charter as it pertains to the mayor and commission’s supervisory authority over city department heads in a weak mayor form of government.

Procedural steps

Mapes said 604 city voters participated in last November’s city elections, which means the group needs at least 61 (10 percent) verified signatures from registered city voters for each petition initiative to move forward. To be safe, Mapes encourages members to collect at least 100 signatures for each petition initiative. The signatures will be presented to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, which will verify or reject each signature received.

According to City Attorney Ricinda Perry, the ballot language must also be reviewed to ensure constitutional compliance with the city charter. If the proposed amendments meet constitutional standards, city voters will have the opportunity to accept or reject them in November.

Mapes said Assistant Supervisor of Elections Scott Farrington told him that he was not aware of any previous attempts to amend a city charter by citizen initiated referendum in Manatee County.