Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
At the request of Commissioner Pat Gass, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) took up the issue of Charter changes during their February 19, 2013 meeting. In a consensus move they directed City Attorney Tammi Bach to draft both ordinance changes and ballot language to increase the commissioner’s term of office from 3 to 4 years and eliminate run off elections. Bach will bring these drafts back to them for consideration at their March 19, 2013 meeting.
At an earlier meeting commissioners had briefly discussed the savings that could be obtained by having the city election cycle coincide with the county, state and federal cycle. The Nassau County Supervisor of Elections, who by contract also conducts city elections, conducts those elections. If the city can eliminate its off year elections, the city will achieve an annual savings of $13,000 or more. But the only way that change can be made is if commission terms change to an even number of years. Should the voters approve increasing the commissioner’s term to 4 years, city elections will mimic county elections where 3 commissioners are elected in one cycle and 2 in the next. Commissioner Ed Boner saw the proposed change as a means to increase voter turnout as well as save the city money.
Boner also questioned the need to change the term of mayor, currently one year. By eliminating the off year election, the mayor’s term would need to increase to 2 years, he said. He also questioned the need to decide on the mayor via straw poll as opposed to a binding vote by the electorate. Considerable discussion followed with both commissioners and City Manager Joe Gerrity weighing in on the pros and cons of straw vote versus direct election. In response to a question, City Attorney Bach said that there is not a process currently in place to remove a mayor from office. She also related a recommendation of the 2007 Charter Review Committee to set the mayor’s term at 2 years and require that it be filled by direct election.
Commissioners decided to return to the issue of mayor at a later date, but to move forward with changes to commissioner terms. Commissioner Filkoff cautioned that it needed to be made clear in any proposed ballot language how the change would impact sitting commissioners if passed. Would terms automatically be extended for an additional year? Consensus was that it would only add a year to the terms of two seated commissioners – Gass and Boner. The others would be addressed during the normal election cycle.
The FBCC also considered the advisability of eliminating run off elections, another recommendation of the 2007 Charter Review Committee. Filkoff and Gass agreed that the time involved in run off races delayed the new commissioners from taking office and getting to work quickly. After some further discussion, the FBCC directed Bach to prepare draft language to make this change as well.
Commissioners appeared interested in considering other possible changes that could be placed on the November ballot for voter consideration this year. Bach reminded commissioners that they have time to do so, since final ballot language does not need to be delivered to the Supervisor of Elections until late August. She also reminded the FBCC that generally a city charter should be reviewed every 5-7 years. Since 6 years have passed since the last review, it is appropriate that the charter be reviewed again.
February 20, 2013 7:26 a.m.