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Palm Coast Thursday, Sep. 28, 2017 3 years ago

At sparsely attended city charter review workshop, residents call process a 'sham,' offer few suggestions for charter changes

None of the dozen members of the public who attended suggested major changes to the city's charter.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Just over a dozen members of the public showed up to participate in Palm Coast's first charter review workshop Sept. 27 in the cafeteria of Matanzas High School, where they were outnumbered by people who were there to work: city staff members, City Council members and reporters. 

None of the members of the public in attendance proposed serious changes to the charter, which has been amended in the past but has never undergone a formal review. But some disputed the review process itself. 

Facilitator Marilyn Crotty gave residents an overview of how charters work. Photo by Jonathan Simmons

Resident Kim Medley thought City Council members should have formed a charter review committee. The city's plan has been to solicit public input through workshops and then have the City Council — rather than a citizen committee — discuss possible charter changes.

"This is essentially a fox guarding the henhouse," Medley said. "And the reason is control, maintaining the status quo, and money. And if you’re looking for any change to come about as a result of this, that is a pipe dream."

She pointed out that residents were being given only limited time to speak — up to three minutes each at the beginning of the meeting, and another three at the end. Public officials did not have such restrictions.

Another resident, George Meegan, agreed.

"I think that we have a bit of a sham going on here," he said. He added that he thought a charter review committee should be formed "posthaste."

City Attorney Bill Reischmann said that if the city formed a charter review committee, "some people will be made happy, and other people will not be happy." He said one section of the charter that could stand improvement, though, is Section 10 — the one that deals with charter amendments and reviews. "The language for that is clunky," he said.

The event Sept. 27 was the first in a series of four scheduled charter workshops that will be facilitated by Marilyn Crotty, director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of Central Florida. City Council members Steven Nobile, Nick Klufas, Bob Cuff and Heidi Shipley attended, as did Reischmann, City Manager Jim Landon and some city staff members.

At the opening of the meeting, Crotty praised the attendance, noting that charter review workshops often draw very few people. She gave the attendees a lesson in how local charters work. All 412 Florida cities have them because they are required to by law, while counties do not have such a requirement. Some Florida counties have charters, but Flagler does not. Charters should not conflict internally or with the Florida Constitution or U.S. Constitution. 

She suggested some principles to keep in mind as the process moves forward. 

“Don’t tie the hands of your elected officials," she said. "If you get into too many details that eliminate their ability to respond to react to the needs of the times, it may not be in the best interest of the city."

A few residents used their three minutes to ask procedural questions.

One resident, Code Enforcement Board member Norm Mugford, didn't think the charter needed much alteration, if any. "Don’t fix what ain't broke," he said. If anything were to be changed, he said, residency requirements for political office should be looked at. Mugford said he'd once lost a council appointment to a candidate who had a local home but actually lived out of town.

Crotty noted that some charters give cities' elected board members the authority to conduct misconduct investigations, and Palm Coast's charter could be changed to allow that.

Resident Greg Feldman cautioned against such an approach. 

"I would strongly be against it, very strongly," he said. "In the council-manager form of government, in my opinion, any investigation or inquiry ... that is noncriminal in nature should be done by that manager." Anything more serious, he said, should be handled by the State Attorney's Office or the Sheriff's Office.

The next charter workshop will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Indian Trails Middle School.

The charter can be viewed online at Comments or suggestions about the charter can be emailed to the city at [email protected].



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