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Largo committee seeks public comment on charter changes

LARGO — Should Largo have term limits for its elected officials?

And should those elected officials have to vote to raise their own salaries, or should they automatically get the same raises that city staffers do?

These are the kinds of questions that have come up as Largo reviews its city charter, which serves as the constitution for the city's government.

For nearly a year, seven appointed volunteers on a Charter Review Committee have been going over the charter and considering changes to it.

Now it's the public's turn. Largo residents are invited to give their comments at a public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

The 20-page charter provides the framework for city operations such as setting a tax rate, electing commissioners, hiring and firing a city manager, and selling or leasing city property.

Copies of the existing charter and proposed amended charter can be found on the city's website, largo.com, under "Recent city news."

At this point, no dramatic changes are planned.

"These are minor technical changes," said City Clerk Diane Bruner. "They did a big overhaul eight years ago."

Once the public weighs in, the Charter Review Committee will look over its proposed amendments one more time. The City Commission will review them, too. Then the amendments will be put on the Nov. 4 ballot for voter approval.

Although no sweeping changes are proposed at this point, Largo's city commissioners have floated a few ideas.

At a recent public meeting, Commissioner Jamie Robinson suggested adding term limits for commissioners. "I know we don't have any. I think it's popular with the electorate," he said. "It's something I feel strongly about."

Commissioner Curtis Holmes disagreed. "When you put term limits into an ordinance or a statute, you have just made the affirmation that the voter is lazy," Holmes said. "They can change it any time they want."

The Charter Review Committee considered term limits but felt that just holding regular elections created enough turnover, members said. Notably, several incumbent Largo commissioners lost in recent elections.

Clearwater and Dunedin have term limits for elected officials, but many other local cities don't.

The subject of term limits comes up every now and then in Largo. Although some of the seven commissioners have served only a few years, Mayor Pat Gerard has been on the board since 2000, and Commissioner Harriet Crozier since 1992.

Robinson said he wasn't talking about term-limiting anyone in particular, but was speaking generally about the need for fresh perspectives.

On another subject: Back in September, Largo's commissioners voted to give themselves a 2.5 percent pay raise, matching a raise that the city staff got. Commissioners were being paid $13,125 a year at the time, and the mayor $19,688.

Commissioners hated taking the vote. They found it really awkward. They wondered aloud if the city charter could just spell out when elected officials get raises.

But it can't. "We did discuss that. We can't think of a way to do it other than you vote on your own pay raises," said Gay Gentry, chairwoman of the Charter Review Committee and a former Largo commissioner.

Members of the Charter Review Committee are Gentry, vice chairwoman Marie Etheridge, and John Boscarino, Patricia Edmond, Jaksa Petrovic, Tanya Pistillo and Sue Porter.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

fast facts

Public meeting

Largo residents are invited to attend a city charter public comment meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Largo City Hall, 201 Highland Ave. To provide written comments, email dbruner@largo.com.

Commission action

On Tuesday night, the City Commission:

• Agreed to a contract with firefighters calling for 2 and 3 percent annual raises.

• Endorsed the Pinellas Greenlight mass transit plan with a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Curtis Holmes dissenting.

• Lowered the monthly rent for the Bookmark Cafe in the Largo Public Library from $1,000 to $500 because the tenant couldn't afford it.

• Approved a cost-sharing plan with Walmart to reconstruct Rosery Road east of Missouri Avenue, where a new Walmart will be built.

• Spent $694,00 to buy 21 police cars — 10 Chevy Caprices, 10 Ford Utility Interceptors and a pickup.

Largo committee seeks public comment on charter changes 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 4:39pm]

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