Proposed amendment undermines home rule
with Pat Rounds, originally published October 2012 in Venice Gondolier and North Port Sun
“We, the people of Sarasota County, Florida, hereby avail ourselves of the opportunity to adopt a Home Rule Charter…”
This is the first line of the Sarasota County Charter enacted by local citizens over 40 years ago. Less than one third of Florida counties have a local constitution. Our County Charter is the document that determines how our local government functions. Recently the Florida Supreme Court affirmed citizen home rule by upholding Sarasota County’s 1998 term limit amendment – a change initiated by citizens and approved by 68% of county voters. Along with term limits, Sarasota County residents launched and approved several charter amendments addressing issues of local and immediate significance.
These referenda include a verified paper ballot voting system (2006), and a supermajority requirement for changes in our county’s comprehensive plan (2007). Charter amendments don’t happen often, and are a means for citizens to implement government change in a timely manner. The proposed “County Charter Amendment” eliminates special elections for charter amendments. It mandates charter amendment referendum delays up to two years or more, throwing roadblocks in the way of effective local government that is responsive to citizens. We urge you to vote NO on this misguided amendment.
The change proposed by the Charter Review Board (CRB) would require that all charter amendments be decided exclusively during general elections rather than 60 days after official filing with the Supervisor of Elections. Requiring that all charter amendments appear only on general election ballots would place important local issues at the bottom of lengthy, often confusing ballots. Eliminating special elections for charter amendments removes an important tool for ensuring responsive local government.
What’s even more confounding is that special elections for charter amendments have been held rarely in the past ten years. The CRB wants to “solve” a problem that doesn’t exist – “expensive” special elections. The suggestion that cost is a key reason to favor this amendment is a red herring. Funding special elections is an investment in sound, responsive home rule government. And given how infrequent they are, completely eliminating special elections is a draconian move that hinders expeditious self-governance.
Getting a charter amendment on the ballot through citizen petition is tough enough. It requires gathering over 13,000 valid voter signatures. Home rule is weakened when additional procedural burdens are added to the process. When local issues arise which motivate citizens to work for a change in our local constitution, the community deserves to understand the issue and make a timely decision at the ballot box. Important local issues should be addressed when they occur and shouldn’t have to wait for the next regularly scheduled election date. “We the People of Sarasota County” shouldn’t be bound to a state and national election schedule to resolve local matters.
It is noteworthy that in August, 2008, there was another official attempt to stifle the Charter amendment process. That effort was a dismal failure. The current amendment was conceived by the elected Charter Review Board (CRB). Recently their discussions have focused on converting their status from an elected to an appointed board. They have discussed putting a time limit on signature gathering for citizen-initiated charter amendments. They have also contemplated an amendment requiring 60% voter approval for charter amendments instead of a simple majority. All are moves to limit citizen impact on county government, and they contradict the very essence of home rule.
Sometimes change is for the better. This time it isn’t.
Preserve effective home rule in Sarasota County. Vote NO on the proposed Sarasota County Charter Amendment.
Board member, Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government,
Founding member of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections
President, Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government
Vice-President, Coalition of Neighborhood Associations