Amendments remain source of debate

CNOBB amendments
Mayor Bill Shearon, left, and Ward 1 candidate Randy White support all three proposed charter amendments. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH –  City commissioners and commission candidates have weighed in on three charter amendments proposed by the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB).

CNOBB used a petition initiative and the threat of a lawsuit rather than the standard charter review process to get their amendment questions on the ballot.

Amendment 1 looks to eliminate the four commission wards designated in the city charter. Amendment 2 looks to reduce commission candidates’ residency requirement from two years to one, and to remove the requirement that candidates must also be registered to vote in Bradenton Beach. Amendment 3 looks to limit the commission’s ability to interpret the charter with ordinances and resolutions.

Mayor Bill Shearon and Vice Mayor John Chappie are competing for the mayor’s seat. Randy White is challenging incumbent Commissioner Ralph Cole for the Ward 3 seat. Ward 1 Commissioner Jake Spooner is running unopposed, and Chappie’s soon-to-be-vacated ward 4 seat will be filled by appointment.

Shearon and White shared their positions during a CNOBB forum last week at the Annie Silver Community Center. Chappie and Cole did not participate due to concerns about Sunshine Law compliance and a Sunshine lawsuit involving CNOBB members. Spooner was not invited because he’s running unopposed. Ward 2 Commissioner Marilyn Maro is not up for reelection, but her input was also sought during separate interviews conducted last week.

Ward elimination

CNOBB claims replacing commission wards with citywide at-large seats would produce more candidates and result in fewer seats being filled by commission appointment.

“By eliminating the wards, that increases the chances for more people to run. There should always be two people running for office. I’m a strong proponent of eliminating the wards,” Shearon said.

“The criticism is we can’t have four people from the same city block, but I’d rather have four people elected from the same city block than four people appointed from the same voting bloc,” White said.

Earlier that day, Chappie said, “It creates an interesting discussion as to whether you’d get more people to run. I’m not convinced it would. I like the wards. What concerns me most is certain areas would dominate representation in the city and there’s a difference between the north and south end neighborhoods.”

“You have a representative from each part of the city who knows what’s going on,” Cole said. “Without wards you could have all your commissioners living on one street. Sometimes you don’t have more candidates because people are happy with their commissioner.”

“I like the neighborhood form of government,” Spooner said. “I wish more people would run, but what they’re proposing doesn’t seem to remedy anything.”

“I want the wards kept because you know more people in your ward, and they know you. If the commissioners all come from one part of town, it could create problems,” Maro said.

Residency and registration

Amendment 2 is inspired by 1993 case law that supported a Sarasota County candidate’s challenge to a two-year residency requirement. Bradenton Beach voters adopted a two-year residency requirement in 2015 and reaffirmed it in 2016.

“Somebody wouldn’t have to necessarily be a registered voter. As long as he’s a resident and can prove his residency, I feel he’s a candidate. We need to make that as easy as possible,” Shearon said.

“Whether or not they voted in the past, why should that come into play when you’re running for office?” White said.

“You need to know the community before running for office, and if you want to take part in determining the future of the community, you should also be a registered voter in the community,” Chappie said.

“There’s case law that says two years is too long, but that’s what our voters wanted,” Cole said. “They want someone who’s been here for a while; and I think you should be a registered voter to serve on the commission.”

“Residency should go to 12 months, but this shouldn’t pass the way it’s worded because it says you don’t need to be a registered voter,” Spooner said.

“I’m for two years, and I think they should be registered to vote in Bradenton Beach,” Maro said.

Charter interpretation

In 2014, commissioners adopted a resolution they felt clarified Mayor Shearon’s duties and supervisory authority as a weak mayor. In 2016, commissioners adopted an ordinance they felt provided additional clarification. CNOBB members claim these interpretive actions changed the charter, but the charter can only be changed by city voters.

“I have some real concerns, especially when it’s a resolution. An ordinance requires two public readings, the resolution doesn’t. Before, it was the charter was the charter, but now there seems to be these gray areas. I strongly support this,” Shearon said of amendment 3.

“The charter is kind of like the constitution. Why get in the way of that?” White added.

“I’m a firm believer that our city charter is the bottom line,” Chappie said. “The resolution 2014 and the ordinance in 2016 didn’t have to happen because the charter provides a simple description of authority and who does what. A lot of people don’t understand this initiative the way it’s written, and it should be turned down for that alone.”

Cole maintained his support for the ordinance he requested in 2016 and said, “There is a charter review process to get the charter changed. Just getting a certain number of signatures to put it on the ballot puts all our laws in jeopardy.”

“You can’t interpret the charter in a way that is totally different from what it says; that’s a moot point,” Spooner said.

“I think they should leave the charter alone unless they have a charter review committee,” Maro said.