In a City Council workshop May 12, Nobile didn’t list any specific things he wanted changed in the city’s charter, but he said he wanted it to be reviewed by a committee with citizens’ input.
“I think the people need to make the decision on how our government is structured, how it functions, the number of council members, all that stuff,” he said. For example, he said, citizens might prefer a City Council of seven elected members, rather than the current five.
But convening a committee to review the charter, said City Attorney Bill Reischmann, would be time-consuming and costly. State law requires 10% of registered voters for a petition to amend the charter.
City Manager Jim Landon mentioned an occasion he knew of in which a city, interested in updating a charter it hadn’t reviewed in decades, hired a lawyer and presented voters with dozens of potential changes on a ballot. The voters rejected every one, he said.
Councilman Jason DeLorenzo said he didn’t see any citizen pressure to change the charter.
“I think I could ask a hundred people over the next couple days that I don’t know, and they will have never read the charter, they wouldn’t know what’s in the charter, and they would have absolutely no opinion on the type of government we’re running,” he said.
Nobile said he was frustrated with council members’ assertions that citizens were uninterested.
“You know what I keep getting? ‘Well, nobody’s here; they can come in.’ No they can’t,” he said. “Most of my constituents are at work right now, and they can’t be here. And next Tuesday, when we vote on stuff, they can’t be here because they’re working. They’re not going to take a day off of work to come and voice their opinion, but what they do is they send me an email or they talk to me, and what I try to do is figure out, ‘Well how do I get them involved?’”
“Well, Steve, tell me what it is in the charter that’s got you concerned,” Councilman Bill McGuire said.
“Nothing’s got me concerned,” Nobile replied.
“Well, you’re obviously agitated about it,” McGuire said.
“I’m agitated because we’re trying to leave the people out of the process of them making a decision on their charter for how their government works. That’s what I’m upset about,” Nobile said. “I’m not upset about anything in the charter. Because if I am, all I have to do is what we’re talking about — get somebody to get 3,000 signatures, and there’d be no choice. See what I’m talking about?”
“No, I don’t,” McGuire said, “because you represent a sizeable amount of people. You’re their mouthpiece. So what’s bothering them?”
“They want a charter review,” Nobile replied.
“Because there are some things that they potentially would like to see changed.”
“What would they like to see changed?” Mayor Jon Netts said.
“Again, I will bring them here,” Nobile said. “I will get them and I will bring them here for you to make the decision whether we do it or not. And that’s what I’m against, is that you’re going to make the decision. See, you’re not getting it. You’re not getting it,” he said, raising his voice. “I am not upset about what the people want changed, if they want something, I’m upset that we’re not giving them the opportunity to do something that —”
“That’s not true,” Netts said, interrupting him. “Why are we discussing Richardson Drive at all? Because residents came to City Council, and said, ‘We’ve got an issue. I have heard one person — one person and one person only — stand up in a City Council meeting and say, ‘I want to change the city charter.’ One person in a city of 78,000. There may be hundreds of others, but I heard one.”
DeLorenzo said he’d never had a resident complain about the city charter. “I think it’s a special interest group, because I’ve never had anyone ask me about it, and we’re looking at something that could potentially cost us a lot of money,” DeLorenzo said.
“What I’m saying is, what the people come up with goes on the referendum,” Nobile said. “It is not subject to the council to decide. … I’m just going to tell them, go get petitions if you want it on the ballot. Because that’s the way it goes without intervention. So that’s alright. I got it.”
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Palm Coast City Charter, which requires 25% of registered voters for a petition to amend the charter, is superseded by state law, which requires only 10%. The original story stated incorrectly that the city charter had precedence over the state law.