City sifts through 38 proposed changes to charter, wary of ‘ballot fatigue’ in November
A Palm Coast City Charter review process that began late last year made its way to the City Council Jan. 9, and could make its way to voters in November 2018.
Among the possible changes suggested were: raising the number of council members from five to seven, expanding the city’s contracting authority to enter into multi-year unfunded contracts, and changing the city’s form of government from a manager-council form to a strong-mayor form.
Crotty compiled data from the four public meetings into a presentation that she, with input from City Attorney Bill Reischmann, gave to the board at the Jan. 9 workshop.
The city, Crotty said, could continue to operate under its current charter — created in 1999 — without alteration. But, she added, “There are certainly things in this charter that are out of date, that are obsolete, that could and probably should be cleaned up.”
One option, Reischmann said: Do nothing. Or the city could put some proposed changes on the ballot, and the council would have to determine which.
Some proposed changes, Reischmann said, are “what we call cleanup”: language that made sense in 1999, but less so now — like the pages upon pages of legal description of the city boundaries.
If the city decides to make substantive changes, he said, one possibility would be to alter the charter’s section on the review process itself.
“We could clarify some things and make it more straightforward,” he said.
Crotty had identified close to 40 potential changes to the charter.
If the city decided to bring those issues to the voters, Reischmann said, there could be a practical problem: The potential amendments will be at the very end of the ballot, when voters tend to be eager to finish.
“There’s this term called ‘ballot fatigue,’” he said. “With all due respect, these things are going to be really, really important to us, but for the average voter — and I’m going to get criticized for this — but some of these things might not be that important to your average voter. ... It’s just a factor. So when you do that, how many questions do you want to have?”
Crotty said one possibility would be to try to simplify the potential changes into a short list.
But, Reischmann cautioned, the city can’t smush two or more different issues into one ballot measure: It’s illegal under Florida law; plus, voters might then be in favor of one part of an amendment, but not another part.
The ballot summaries of proposed changes also have to be short: just 75 words. And if the city’s proposed amendments mean that the ballot will have to be lengthened by adding an additional page, the city will have to pay for the printing costs for the additional ballot pages.
City staff will refine Crotty’s list and bring the issue back before the council in the future for further discussion.
“The fact of it is, our charter is really not broken,” City Manager Jim Landon said. “It needs to be cleaned up.”
The charter can be viewed online at palmcoastgov.com/council/charter.pdf. Comments or suggestions about the charter can be emailed to the city at firstname.lastname@example.org.