Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 11, 2020
The Charter Review Committee (CRC) of the City of Fernandina Beach is composed of 7 members appointed by City Commissioners and Charter Officers to review the City Charter and recommend any changes deemed necessary to clarify and/or better reflect the will of the electorate today with respect to organization of City government, roles and responsibilities of Commissioners and Charter Officers, and elections.
To read the current City Charter, click here.
The last Charter Review Committee met in 2007 and did an extensive clean up of obsolete sections and language. As a result of their recommendations, voter referendums were held that resulted in changed commission terms from 3 to 4 years and 2-year election cycles to coincide with state elections.
City Attorney Tammi Bach, who staffs the CRC, explained the nature and purpose of the City Charter during the August 6, 2019 City Commission meeting during which the current CRC was established. She said, “The municipal charter establishes the particular town and includes its boundaries. The charter also includes the municipality’s form of government, elected and administrative officials and municipal elections. It outlines the handling of public services and deals with financial matters, such as the power to tax and to incur debt and bond. The charter contains information regarding the city’s boards, commissions and committees. It addresses charter amendments and other issues dealing with how a municipality operates.”
The CRC has been meeting since October 1, 2019, taken public input, received a briefing from the Florida League of Cities (FLC), and participated in a joint workshop with the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC). The 2020 CRC meetings are recorded and may be viewed on the City’s website, along with meeting agendas.
CRC Chair Arlene Filkoff briefed the FBCC at their February 3, 2020 Regular Meeting on the committee’s progress. She cited three common themes that have arisen during the initial period of information gathering and public input:
- Do we need a Code of Ethics? If so, for whom? State definition is a violation is only proven in the event of personal gain for an elected official.
- The community has differing levels of understanding, based on public input. Seems roles and responsibilities are not always clear to them and the lack of trust shows in some of the input we’ve received.
- We are on target for our June completion of the review, but I do believe that the members of the committee who are deeply engaged, will continue if necessary to deliver a quality product.
In noting accomplishments to date, Filkoff said that CRC members have endorsed the existing Commission/City Manager form of government. However, members are grappling with lines of responsibility between Commissioners and Charter Officers. Work is underway to create a survey that would be sent to all City employees in an attempt to determine if they are receiving inquiries or assignments from Commissioners that take them away from work assignments from their supervisors. Responses will be anonymous.
CRC members are engaging in robust discussion on well researched Charter sections in an attempt to remove conflicting language. They are also removing or modernizing obsolete terms and eliminating sexist language.
Unlike previous Charter reviews, recommended changes in the final report will go directly to referendum for an up or down vote by registered voters in the City. During earlier Charter reviews, the FBCC first decided whether to accept recommendations before sending them to the voters. The consensus of the current Commission seems to be that they will not stop any major recommendation from being presented directly to the public.
The CRC continues to invite public input. Citizens may voice concerns or recommend changes during CRC meetings, which are held at City Hall and open to the public. The committee also welcomes and considers written public input. In December 2019, the CRC sent out a notice requesting public input, which is reprinted below:
The Charter Committee seeks input from the community and has taken steps to make it easier for citizens to ask questions and make suggestions to the Committee:
- A website has been created for the Charter Review Committee: http://www.fbfl.us/crc. The website will include information such as meeting dates, reports and recommendations, and an email address where the community can submit questions and/or make comments.
- An email address has been set up for the Charter Review Committee: [email protected]. Emails sent to this address will be received in the City Attorney’s office and promptly forwarded to all members of the Charter Review Committee.
- Members of the Charter Review Committee will be available to meet with citizen and business groups and discuss the work of the Charter Review Committee. Interested parties should either send an email to the address noted above or contact the City Attorney’s office (904-310-3275).
- All meetings of the Charter Review Committee are public. The community is encouraged to attend and will be able to make comments. The dates and times of all meetings of the Charter Review Committee will be listed http://www.fbfl.us/crc, as well as the City’s regular agenda listing.
- In addition to the Charter Committee’s regular meetings, public meetings will be scheduled in spring of 2020 to review the details of our preliminary recommendations and solicit comments and suggestions from the public. Meeting dates and times will be published on the website.
The CRC is on track to complete its work by the FBCC’s June 30, 2020 deadline.
The CRC met most recently on February 10, 2020 and concentrated its discussions on the roles and responsibilities of the City Commission and the Charter Officers (City Manager, City Attorney and City Clerk).
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.