Charter Review -- Fast Track to Completion
Commission Will Deliberate, Voters Will Decide
The Charter Review Advisory Committee (CRC) wrapped up their report Friday, Sept. 20, at Noon. The report will go to the Commission on Monday, Sept. 23, at a 6:00 pm workshop following the regular Commission meeting.
Every 10 years, a committee of Winter Park citizens is assembled to review the City Charter and make updates to bring it into compliance with state and federal law and to eliminate archaic language. The last review was in 2009.
Charter Review Committee
The committee members were Steve Brandon, Marjorie Bridges, Lisa Coney, Mary Daniels, Amanda Day, James Johnston, Bud Kirk, Jr., Nick Pope and Lawrence Lyman. They had 10 two-hour meetings between April 23 and September 20, 2019, in which they reviewed the Charter, line-by-line, and recommended changes. Recommendations required a consensus threshold of 75 percent of the committee. Issues decided could be readdressed with the consent of 75 percent of the committee.
Led by Marilyn Crotty
Not only was there robust discussion among committee members, there was substantial time devoted to public comment both before and following the formal meetings. Facilitator Marilyn Crotty, who led the effort and who has had a long career as a facilitator for cities throughout Florida, stated that she observed more participation from Winter Park citizens than she had for any other city with which she had worked. She commended Winter Parkers for their extraordinary level of civic engagement.
The Commission will have the weekend to review the CRC’s report. Following the regular Commission meeting Monday, the Commissioners and the committee members will have an informal workshop to discuss the committee’s recommendations. Although the Commission could decide otherwise, it is customary that during an informal workshop, such as the one Monday night, no decisions will be made and no public comment will be taken.
It will be an important meeting for concerned citizens to attend, however, to see which issues are discussed and to hear the tenor of the conversation.
First, the Commission
The Commission can decide to accept all, some or none of the CRC’s recommendations. Recommendations the Commission does accept will be placed on the ballot at the Presidential Preference Primary March 17, 2020. The procedure for that is as for anything placed on the ballot. The Commission will pass an ordinance that will include the ballot language through a process of two public hearings and an affirmative vote of a majority of Commissioners. Public notice and public comment will play leading roles in that process.
Then to the Ballot for a Decision by the Voters
At the September 20 committee meeting, Ms. Crotty estimated there could be as many as 19 separate recommendations to go on the ballot in March – a substantial amount of information for anyone to take in, especially in a Presidential Primary year when there are sure to be distractions.
Elaborate Voter Info Program Recommended
The CRC is recommending the City fund a community education program consisting, at a minimum, “. . . of access to copies of the proposed Charter changes, printed informational brochures, public forums, information on social media and the City website, and a speakers’ bureau to inform voters of the proposed changes.”
During the committee meetings, the items that came up for discussion most frequently – and tended to be the most controversial – were the following four.
- Should Commissioners be elected from a geographic district rather than representing the citizens at large? Some believed districts might provide fairer representation for under-served communities, such as the West Side neighborhood. Others believed Winter Park is not large enough to warrant being divided up geographically. No consensus was reached on this issue, so it will not go forward as a recommendation from the committee, but Commissioners are still likely to hear about it.
- Should the Mayor have the sole authority to make appointments to Citizen Advisory Boards? Again, no consensus – five voted for, three against, one was absent – but the vote did not reach the required 75 percent consensus threshold. While a recommendation from the committee will not be forthcoming, this discussion too is probably far from over.
- How to ensure our local elections remain non-partisan? The difficulty here was crafting rules that are a) unambiguous and b) do not conflict with state and federal statutes and certain U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The committee recommends language prohibiting candidates from publicly advertising affiliation with any political party or accepting campaign contributions from any political party. It also provides for penalties for infractions.
- Increased compensation for Mayor and Commissioners. The committee is bringing its recommendation for base annual salaries for Commissioners of $12,600 and for the Mayor, $15,000. According to a table distributed by Marilyn Crotty, each Commissioner now receives $2,400 per year, and the Mayor receives $3,000.
Holding office entails a significant commitment of time and resources, and that can be a barrier for someone who has family obligations and is not self-employed, retired or independently wealthy. While no current Mayor or Commissioner would receive an increase, the increase would bring Winter Park compensation more in line with other cities in Central Florida. More important, the hope is that this increase would encourage a wider pool of potential future candidates to run for elected office.
Civil Service Board Survives
The committee was able to work through one topic — the possible elimination of the Civil Service Advisory Board – to avoid controversy. Suggested Charter language had the potential to eliminate the Civil Service Board, which forms a layer of protection between Police and Fire first responders and the more politically oriented City government. Instead of a Civil Service Advisory Board, the Charter would have mandated a Civil Service Code, (as yet, unwritten) which the Commission would adopt by Ordinance and which would govern first responders.
A Civil Service Code exists, but has not been updated for many years and is largely irrelevant. When asked about this, Police Chief Michael Deal told the Voice, “The Code is outdated and should be modernized, but the Board should remain intact. This keeps politics out of [first responder] work.”
Chief Deal went on to explain that nearly everything first responders do is governed by state law and state accreditation standards. “I am very happy in my job,” said Deal, “and the City Manager and the Commission are very supportive – they all let me do my job.”
“The issue is how the City functions,” he said, “not about the specific personalities involved. Right now, everything’s fine, but there could come a time when politics could enter in – which it doesn’t now – and that would not be appropriate.”
Chief Deal and City Manager Randy Knight have agreed to work together to update the Civil Service Code to meet today’s conditions. In the meantime — except in the highly unlikely event the Commission decides to abolish it — the Civil Service Advisory Board will remain.