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Dunedin's charter changes would put leaders under term limits

DUNEDIN — Dunedin's mayor and city commissioners would face term limits under a proposal from a volunteer group tasked with reviewing the city charter.

If approved, leaders who currently can serve an unlimited number of years would be restricted to two consecutive four-year terms each.

Additionally, a term-limited mayor would be required to sit out two years before running again for either a commission seat or mayor. The reasoning is that a mayor might have prior experience as a commissioner. A term-limited commissioner, however, could run immediately for mayor under the proposal.

The goal, members said, is to keep ideas fresh as well as potentially add new blood to the commission.

"Nationally, incumbents win … between 85 to 90 percent of the time. And in many cases, if you didn't have term limits, the only reason someone leaves office is when they die," said Charter Review Committee chairman Bill Francisco. "We think there are plenty of people in Dunedin who are capable of serving as commissioner and mayor, and we'd like to provide the mechanism to encourage that."

The recommendation is among a half-dozen proposed by the committee's seven volunteers. The committee is appointed by the City Commission every five years to update the city charter.

The group, which finalized its report to commissioners this week, crafted the recommendations during seven public meetings held since August. That includes a September forum that drew only five residents to City Hall.

Next, the panel will present its recommendations to commissioners, who will decide which — if any — proposals to potentially adopt. The commission would then hold the two public hearings required to draft the changes into an ordinance. But the changes wouldn't become a part of the charter unless passed by voter referendum in November 2012.

Other proposed charter changes would:

• Clearly define "conviction" — one of the measures that would force a commissioner to vacate office — as a determination of guilt, even if the commissioner pleads no contest or a court withholds the conviction from his or her record. The charter already says commissioners are out if they violate any part of the charter, or rack up three consecutive unexcused absences, or miss eight commission meetings in a year whether excused or not, or are convicted of a crime involving "moral turpitude."

• Delete the sentence stating that elected leaders' salary recognizes their office "is a matter of public service to the community and is not actual compensation for services rendered."

Committee members said Dunedin's budget and responsibilities have grown dramatically over the decades, requiring a financial and time commitment that might deter, or even bar, many from running. The mayor's job pays $10,000 a year and commissioners make $8,000.

"While we don't think that a number of salary level should be in the charter, we think the City Commission should consider raising the compensation to a level that's more commensurate with the amount of time that's spent," Francisco said. "We're not suggesting it should be a full-time job. We just want to lend support to have it discussed and considered."

Bar commissioners from serving a consecutive term as vice mayor. (The vice mayor, appointed annually by colleagues, heads meetings when the mayor is absent or unable to take charge).

• Require a four-fifths super-majority vote, rather than a simple majority, to appoint the city clerk, city attorney or city auditor.

And they won't include it in the proposed charter changes, but the committee's report will "highly recommend" training for new commissioners in areas including Sunshine Law and budgeting.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

.Fast facts

Term limits in Dunedin

The Dunedin Charter Review Committee's recommendation that the mayor and commissioners face term limits won't affect current members, officials say, because charter amendments can't be applied retroactively. Three members — Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioners David Carson and Julie Scales — are up for re-election in November 2012. If they are re-elected and the term-limit provision is approved, these members' terms would count as their first under the new charter.

Dunedin City Commission

Commission terms were extended from two to three years in the mid-1980s. In November 2010, voters approved extending terms to four years — a measure which takes effect with the November 2012 election. Earlier this year, commissioners also moved city elections from March to November in a bid to save money and encourage voter turnout. Here are current members' length of office:

Mayor Dave Eggers: Elected commissioner in March 2003 and March 2006; elected mayor in March 2009; faces re-election in November 2012.

Vice Mayor Ron Barnette: In March 2009, won the two-year commission seat vacated by Deborah Kynes, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor; re-elected without opposition to a three-year term in March 2011

Commissioner Julie Scales: Elected commissioner in March 2003, 2006 and 2009; faces re-election in November 2012

Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski: Elected in March 2006 to the two-year commission seat vacated by Bob Hackworth, who successfully ran for mayor; re-elected to three-year terms in March 2008 and March 2011

Commissioner David Carson: Elected commissioner in March 2009; faces re-election in November 2012

Source: City Clerk's Office

Dunedin's charter changes would put leaders under term limits 11/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 9:18pm]
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