Longboaters should vote ‘No’ on replacing our Town Charter

Editor & Publisher

The Charter is Longboat Key’s Constitution. It is our foundational governing document. It ought to be amended and changed with respect and caution.

There are many good things in the Charter that is before voters, but unfortunately the sitting Town Commission made some critical mistakes and the electorate is best suited to vote down the proposed Charter.

The problem is that one of the items is very controversial and does not make sense for our community.

Another problem is that the Commission had the option of asking voters each of the Charter Amendment questions independently over several election cycles or at least grouping the non-controversial items together. Instead, this Charter is presented as an Omnibus bill — it is a take it all or leave it methodology that does not respect the ability of voters to make decisions one by one.

It is akin to asking voters if they support legalizing marijuana, repealing Roe versus Wade and banning offshore drilling all in the same referendum question.

The method takes for granted the voters trust and faith and it is an abuse of that privilege to lump all of these Charter questions in a take-it-or-leave-it measure.

My recommendation is to vote “No” and for this Commission to go to the voters item-by-item or at least take the non-controversial items in one vote and then educate and ask the voters of the more important items issue-by-issue the way any responsible government approaches its electorate.

So what are the controversial items?

The main one is the allowance of the Commission to borrow using revenue bonds up to $5 million. Currently, the Commission does not have this right and voters must approve any revenue bond for any amount.

Revenue bonds are tied to revenue streams. In other words, currently if the Town wishes to tap one of its revenue streams and issue bonds for a project, it must sell the idea of to the community and then proceed with the bonding.

This method has worked for the last two decades. In fact, it was Longboat voters who voted to put this measure in place as a protection from encumbering debt.

When I asked the Town Manager and staff of any instance where their hands were tied or where the current method presented a negative, I was told this item was simply requested by the Town’s bond attorneys and that most communities allow revenue bonds to be issued. But let’s look at this.

The amendment allows not just bonding up to $5 five million, it provides for annual escalations in tandem with the Consumer Price Index. It also allows subsequent bonding at 90-day intervals.

Let’s give some examples. This is not to accuse this Commission of fiscal irresponsibility or that this commission would do this, but voters must proceed with the idea that we need to protect ourselves from a Commission down the road.

One source of fees that could be bonded is the open space or passive recreation impact fee that we charge developers. That money must be spent on parks, passive recreation or open space. We recently used several million dollars of this money to buy land behind SunTrust for a future Town Center.

The Town could bond this revenue stream and go ahead and initiate construction on the site or buy additional land without approval from the community.

Another revenue stream is the Tennis Center of which I’m a huge supporter. The fees paid by the members could be harnessed and bonded to expand the center or buy more land or initiate something that might be quite positive but again deserves a community conversation and vote.

Another option is a very serious one. We currently had a huge debate and much soul-searching as a Town about our undergrounding plan and how to pay for it.

Voters approved the measure based on the size and scope of the $50 million project and it caused much pain and consternation over the cost to many property owners. It was narrowly approved.

Here’s the rub: if there are cost overruns or the scope of the project is expanded, the Town could issue revenue bonds up to $5 million at any given time to fund the project or an expansion of the project or street lighting or landscaping or anything related to the utility undergrounding and tie it to an increase in utility fees.

Why should residents today want to approve a Charter change that effectively votes the voter out of future decisions, especially when those decisions will lead to indebtedness?

We should trust the Commission to budget taxpayer dollars and to set millage rates. We do not think want them in the position of bonding and indebting future revenue streams without consent.

Vote “No” on the Charter replacement and let’s get the amendments before us at a future date item by item.

Another measure I do not agree with and voters should not support is another proposed change to the Charter that takes away from the Town Manager the full decision in hiring his or her staff.

Currently, the Town Manager can hire an Assistant Town Manager if it fits within the budget.

Now, the Commission is asking voters to change the Charter so that any Assistant Town Manager position as well as the applicant must be “consented to” by the Commission. The language is vague and awkward and politicizes the workplace unnecessarily.

This is not the form of government we have on Longboat Key. It is a move to diminish the Town Manager’s authority and it will politicize the position of the Assistant Town Manager. It would be better if the chief executive, IE the Town Manager, be held accountable in his annual review by the Commission. If they do not like any of his department heads or think he is doing a bad job, then brush him back or remove him since he is an at-will employee

To be quite blunt, the Commission should not be involved with staff except the Town Manager and the attorney who works for them.

The Commission sets policy, the millage and approves the budget. The Town Manager executes policy and spends the money. The Commission is supposed to focus on policy, not personnel. The fact that they are recommending this is a slippery slope toward micromanagement and will not serve our community well.

Vote “No” on the ballot against adoption of the 2018 Charter for the above reasons. We need our Commission to present these amendments independently and not as a wholesale replacement of the very legal foundation that has served our Town well for many years.

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1 Response for “Longboaters should vote ‘No’ on replacing our Town Charter”

  1. Anhony Vlahides says:

    I agree with Mr. Reid’s argument. We should definitely vote no on replacing the Town charter.

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