City voters are careful voters
Originally published November 27, 2012 in SRQ Daily
This Thanksgiving comes on the heels of one of the longest general election ballots in recent memory. Two pages long, with 12 state amendments, one County charter amendment and seven City of Sarasota charter amendments. Yes, if you live in the City of Sarasota you were voting on nineteen amendments, in addition to the candidate races. It was enough to make your head spin and there was concern that voters would be overwhelmed by the ballot. Yet the results appear to indicate that voters took the time to consider each amendment carefully, especially voters in the City of Sarasota.
City voters approved four charter amendments that (1) prohibit risky derivative investments by the City, (2) allow increased time for citizen petitions drives to amend the charter (from three months to six), (3) require a super majority commission vote on long term contracts (like the Marina Jack lease and FPL franchise agreement) and (4) prohibit certificates of participation to be issued without a referendum (closing a loophole that could be exploited to bypass voter input on bond issues). Phew! All wise restraints that put more emphasis on citizen representation and participation.
City voters rejected the “housekeeping” amendment. An ambiguous amendment that assured voters the changes were just “housekeeping,” the amendment would have made major changes to pension administration and the role of the City Clerk and Auditor. Such proposed changes merit clear focus and discussion. City voters sent a sound message to authors of future amendments – define amendments clearly. “Housekeeping” doesn’t meet that standard.
City voters rejected the elimination of the alternative minimum wage requirement for employers (with greater than 50 employees) who receive over $100,000 in city subsidies. City voters appear to believe that if a company is receiving a sizable city subsidy, then they must pay a living wage (Florida’s alternative minimum wage is $10.70 per hour – the minimum wage that will support a family of four).
Finally, City voters said no to the “strong auditor” amendment, which would have created an independent auditor and had the City Clerk report to the City Manager. While this structure is common in other cities, there was controversy about the manner in which this amendment was brought to ballot. A local PAC hired petition signature gatherers, but refused to disclose their funding sources. It appears that City voters appreciate that the ends don’t justify the means, especially when the means undermines trust in City processes. Important issues remain – a City Clerk functioning without a Charter-required bond, and the lack an independent City auditor. These issues must be addressed in a transparent manner that honors the Clerk’s service, residents and our City Charter.
Hats off to careful voters! Those who took the time to consider each amendment, and those who chose to sit it out. Yes, thank you to those who did not vote down ballot—if you hadn’t done your research. Our local down ballot issues deserve the same careful scrutiny invested in the top races.