By Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 10, 2019
Editor’s Note: “How to create a charter county government,” is the fourth in a series of articles published by Suanne Thamm in July of 2015. Her articles focused on the Charter Form of Government after now retired Chief Judge Donald Moran spoke to the county commission and urged them to change our current form of government. “Your system of governance that you have in this community is in my opinion is kind of antiquated.” (The City of Fernandina Beach operates under a charter form of government, however, Nassau County does not.)
Suanne’s articles continues to capture attention nationally and across the state of Florida. The articles are one of the most sought after articles in our seven year Fernandina Observer collection. We hope you enjoy.
Miami Dade County is the oldest chartered county in Florida, having adopted its charter in 1957, eleven years before the state authorized such an option for other Florida counties. Neighboring Duval County adopted a consolidated government by charter in in 1968. Today, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Orange counties are the most populous counties to have opted for charters.
But slowly the trend seems to be moving in the direction of chartering in other counties whose voters have grown weary with the oversight and delay in dealing with the legislature over matters that are local in nature.
Wakulla County, the smallest Florida charter county, adopted its charter in 2008. Last year a 15-member charter review commission was appointed to review the County Charter and provide the county commission with recommendations for amendment, revision or repeal, or no amendment, revision or repeal. Recommended changes included: non-partisan elections, with the top two candidates in the primary election advancing to the General Election; single member districts for the board of county commissioners; all local officers subject to recall; candidate mandatory residency requirement for 6 months prior to qualifying date.
Columbia County, close to the size of Nassau County in population, adopted its charter in 2002, and has undergone charter review twice since its adoption.
While to date only 20 of Florida’s 67 counties have opted for charter form of government, at least one other county — Pasco—is currently working through its charter commission to bring forth a document for the voters to consider.
In January 2015, the Tampa Tribune reported on efforts afoot in Pasco County to form a charter county. Pasco is the largest county in Florida currently without a charter. According to an article by Laura Kinsler that appeared on January 8, 2015, proponents of charter government were coming to the table with different points of view on what a charter should contain. Hot topics included single member districts, an elected executive and commission term limits.
The Pasco County Charter Advisory Committee has been formed, consisting of 15 members and 5 alternates. They held their organizational meeting on May 15, 2015. Minutes and videos from their meetings are available on their website: http://fl-pascocounty.civicplus.com. Their goal is to have a question ready for the voters in November 2016.
Craigin Mosteller, Communications and Policy Advisor, Florida League of Counties, said that she knows of no Florida county other than Pasco exploring charter government at this time. She added, however, that there is no requirement for counties to report that to her association. The Florida League of Counties does not engage in advocacy on this matter. Their role is to educate counties and lay out technical matters pertaining to charters.
Lake County not actively pursuing charter
Not all counties are convinced that charter is the best form of government. Lake County is a case in point. Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, a political science professor at Stetson University, a former chairman of the successful Volusia County Charter Commission and a top expert on home-rule government in Florida, wrote an opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel on October 4, 1992. Bailey reminded his readers that without a charter, it takes a state law to get things changed in Lake County, and that such a cumbersome process can take months or years.
He wrote, “Ultimately, Lake County’s destiny is in the hands of large blocs of lawmakers from Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando.”
He continued, “Creating a citizens’ review commission to study a home-rule charter for Lake is an excellent step. What’s more, it will save Lake County hundreds of thousands of dollars even if the County Commission and voters eventually decide they don’t want to change what they’ve got. The very process of reviewing how our county government works and examining how charter governments operate elsewhere will produce dozens of cost-saving ideas.
“The best part about establishing a home-rule charter is that every decision is made locally. The parts of charter government that work best in neighboring counties like Orange, Volusia and Osceola can be adopted. Those that have proven ineffective elsewhere can be pitched out.
“Clearly, charter government works as a tool for a rapidly changing Florida where the state and federal government are pushing more responsibility and decision-making to the local level. More Florida residents now live under some form of home-rule charter than those who don’t. What’s more, a majority of Florida’s counties – including many smaller ones like Lake – either already have home-rule or are in various stages of adopting it.”
To date, Lake County does not have a charter, and despite earlier interest, does not seem to be pursuing such.
Charters available on municode.com
County charters, which are available via Municode.com, contain preambles that set forth the goals of the voters who adopted the charter. For example, the Orange County preamble reads:
The Citizens of Orange County, joined together in the belief that governmental decisions affecting local interests should be made locally rather than by the State, and that County government should be reflective of the people of the County and should serve them in achieving a more responsive and efficient form of local government with improved cooperation between the County and the municipalities and other governmental units within the County; and, in order to empower the people of this County to make changes in their own government, do hereby avail themselves of the full home rule benefits afforded by the Florida Constitution to adopt a Home Rule Charter, do ordain and establish this Home Rule Charter for Orange County, Florida.
It may be worth noting that no chartered county has reverted to non-charter government.
Next: Charter government Q & A
To view previous articles on charter government, click below.
First in a series – Nassau County Government
Third in a series, “How to create a charter county government”
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.