BRADENTON BEACH – Bradenton Beach Commissioners have rejected four charter amendment initiatives pursued by the Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods (KORN) political action committee.
Barring a court order or a new petition initiative done according to the city charter, KORN’s proposed charter amendment questions will not appear on the city ballot this fall.
KORN’s charter initiatives propose a citywide prohibition on multi-level parking garages, hiring a full-time city manager, increasing setback restrictions and prohibiting vacant commission seats from being filled by commission appointment.
The commission based its decision on KORN not following the charter’s referendum procedures and on insufficiencies and concerns cited by City Clerk Terri Sanclemente, City Attorney Ricinda Perry and City Engineer Lynn Burnett.
After nearly two hours of debate on Thursday, June 21, the commission adopted three motions. The first was for the commission to uphold Sanclemente’s decision to reject the proposed amendments according article 4 of the city charter. The second stated KORN’s initiatives do not comply with Florida Statutes 166.031 and 101.161. A third motion directed city staff to defend the city charter and represent the city in any litigation arising from the KORN petitions.
All three motions were approved by 4-1 votes, with Commissioner Randy White in opposition.
As he left city hall, KORN chairman Reed Mapes said, “I’m calling my lawyer.”
As of mid-day Monday, a lawsuit had not been filed.
On June 4, KORN treasurer John Metz submitted the signed petitions to the clerk’s office with a note citing 88 signatures for the parking garage petition, 87 for the vacancies petition, 83 for the setbacks petition and 76 for the city manager petition.
The referendum requirements in the city charter and state law require verified signatures from at least 10 percent of the registered electors in the preceding general election. According to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office website, Bradenton Beach had 744 registered in November 2017.
“Now you put us in a position where we either don’t follow our city charter or we go to litigation.”
– Jake Spooner, Bradenton Beach Commissioner
On June 11, Sanclemente sent Metz a letter stating KORN didn’t form a five-member petition circulating committee, didn’t use the city’s required forms and didn’t provide accompanying affidavits stating each petition was signed in the presence of a committee member.
“This office has testimony that petitions were mailed to residents and were not signed in the presence of a committee member,” Sanclemente wrote. “Accordingly, your petitions are deemed insufficient pursuant to the city charter.”
KORN was given 10 days to file amended petitions. Sanclemente recapped these insufficiencies for the commission and said Metz refused to accept the petitions mailed back to him.
During that morning’s Charter Review Committee meeting, the city engineer said KORN’s setback amendment could negatively impact stormwater retention. She recommended revising the amendment language or addressing those concerns in city code instead. Perry said the amendment could expose the city to Bert Harris claims.
“We’re using the same process that was used last year, a state process under 166.031,” Metz told the commission.
He was referencing charter initiatives pursued by the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) in 2017. Perry said those voter-adopted charter amendments still contain unresolved conflicts.
“The city is a conduit through which we operate. There’s nothing the city’s to do except to follow statute. I’m here to ask you to send these petitions on. I think there’s enough litigation going on that we don’t need more,” Metz said.
“Did you follow the procedure in our charter?” Cole asked.
“It’s not appropriate,” Metz responded.
“You don’t find it appropriate, but our job is to follow our city charter. Now you put us in a position where we either don’t follow our city charter or we go to litigation. Why didn’t you follow our charter?” Commissioner Jake Spooner said.
“We’re not required to,” Metz said.
Perry said the Elections Office only determines whether enough verified petition signatures were obtained and it’s up to the commission to review referendums for compliance with the charter and state law.
“You were sworn in to uphold this city’s constitution, which is its charter, and state law,” Perry told the commission.
Perry said state law limits ballot summaries to 75 words and ballot titles to 15 words. The ballot summary for the vacancies amendment contains 102 words and the setbacks summary contains 89. According to Perry, all four ballot titles exceed 15 words.
The word “outrageous” appears in the parking garage summary and “cronyism” appears in the vacancies summary. Perry’s June 19 memo to the commission referenced a Florida Supreme Court ruling that says, “The ballot summary should tell the voter the legal effect of the amendment and no more. The political motivation behind a given change must be propounded outside the voting booth.”
Perry said state law no longer allows land-use referendums and Cole noted the charter’s building height restrictions predate the change in state law.
Chappie said the first question to be answered was, “Does the charter apply or not?”
Perry said the charter was created according to state law and works in tandem with Florida statues.
“It’s not specific to KORN. Our charter has to be followed,” Spooner said.
“This is an attempt to stop these KORN initiatives,” White said.
White said the state process provides citizens with another option if they feel they’re not being heard at the local level.
“Had the city been willing to work with us, we’d probably been able to work all those items out. We’ve found that very much impossible,” KORN chair Reed Mapes said regarding last year’s referendum efforts.
“That’s not true. The city was clearly pleading to work with CNOBB to set up a charter review committee to get it done correctly. CNOBB said no,” Chappie responded.
“What is the problem with following a simple procedure?” Cole said of this year’s efforts. “If you would have done that, it would have allowed us to say yes, let’s put it to the voters without breaking our own city charter.”