Fernandina Beach, FL
July 19, 2019 12:00 p.m.
The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) released survey results for its Form of Government survey (July, 2019). According to the survey overview, “the survey has been conducted nine times since 1974 and is the most comprehensive resource available on form of government, provisions for referenda or recall, terms of office, mayoral powers, and other data pertaining to the structure of local government in the United States.” In other words, for local government junkies, this is interesting stuff!
The survey was distributed to the clerks of nearly 13,000 municipal governments in the ICMA database. An online response option was offered in addition to the mailed survey. A little over 4,100 surveys were returned for a 32.2% response rate.
The roughly one-third response rate was somewhat evenly distributed among responding municipalities population: the highest response rate was 40% from smaller communities (under 2,500); the lowest, 22.7% of communities sized 250,000-499,999. For communities the size of Fernandina Beach (10,000-24,999), the response rate was 33.1%. By region, the response rate again similarly distributed, from a low of 22.6% (Middle Atlantic) to a high of 43.1% (South Atlantic).
The results, when compared to Fernandina Beach’s form of government, indicate that our community functions in most ways as do the governments of most other communities. Our form of government is defined as a Council-Manager form (48.2% of responses; second was Mayor-Council [38.2%]). Under this form, established by the City Charter, the Council (Commission) is directly elected by residents for the purpose of developing policies. The Commission is responsible for appointing a Manager to execute the desired policies. The positions of Mayor and Manager are often differentiated by the terms Chief Elected Officer (CEO) and Chief Appointed Officer (CAO). Here, as in nearly 60% of the respondents, the Commission has the sole authority to appoint the Manager.
With regard to government procedures, again, Fernandina Beach operates with similar procedures as most responding communities. The Manager is required to live within the City limits in nearly 52% of the communities. While I am the only employee so restricted (or blessed), over 16% of other communities have residency requirements for all municipal employees. “residency requirement” was not defined in the survey, so the term could be interpreted more broadly than strictly within the municipal boundaries. In some cases, the requirement to live within a certain distance (especially for public safety staff) may be considered a residency requirement.
Other similar procedures in which Fernandina conforms to the majority are the lack of a provision for popular referendum (66.3%), lack of provision for recall (51.1%), the use of resident boards and committees (88.3%), 85.1% which exclusively appoint board members in an advisory capacity (87.4%). Of approximately two dozen areas of focus listed, only three committee areas were evident in over half of the respondents: Zoning (86%), Planning (82,9%), and Parks and Recreation (62.6%). Fernandina Beach has advisory committees for those issues as well as several more (volunteers welcome). The City will be hosting an appreciation luncheon for the board and commission members on August 20.
Specific questions addressed the position of Mayor. 83.3% of Chief Elected Officials are part-time. Technically, Fernandina Beach strays from the norm of direct mayoral election (75.6%) with the Commission selecting the Mayor from among the members of the Commission. The results of straw ballot offered to the electors, though, for the position of Mayor have always been honored by the City Commission. Furthermore, another difference is the term of office for the Mayor: in 49.4% of the communities, the Mayor serves a four-year term (in Fernandina, it has been traditionally an annual appointment, but with the change to four-year terms and even-year elections, the Mayor now serves a two-year term. In some communities, the Mayor’s role with the City Commission is restricted, but most communities, like Fernandina Beach, convey full membership to the Mayor on the City Commission.
City Commission elections are non-partisan as is the case with most other communities (69.9%). Five is the most common number of Commissioners, with most (68.0%) being elected “at-large” (no districts). 92.1% of Commissions are part-time (well, supposed to be), and most (roughly 64%) serve four-year terms (80.8% which are staggered). The most notable difference of Fernandina Beach with other surveyed communities is City Commission term limits: unlike Fernandina Beach which has a two-term limit, 91.3% of other communities have no term limits.
While this information may seem somewhat inconsequential, the City Commission is preparing to appoint a Charter Review Committee. This Committee will consider and offer recommendations for local government organization and operation. The Charter Review Committee is akin to a local Constitutional Convention. Charter amendments should not be considered lightly, so the role of this committee will be important.
If interested in more of the survey data, please contact me for a copy of the report.