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Port Richey looks to add bill of rights to charter

PORT RICHEY — It's been 217 years since the Founding Fathers drew up the Bill of Rights as part of the U.S. Constitution.

Little did they know that one day, city officials in an often contentious place called Port Richey would consider a similar proclamation for their population of 3,200.

Taking its inspiration from the city of Miami Gardens, Port Richey's seven-member charter review committee is proposing a Citizens' Bill of Rights. The two-page document moved forward after a 4-0 vote by the City Council on Tuesday night. (Council member Mark Hashim was absent.)

The next step is for the document to be approved as an ordinance by the City Council and then placed on a referendum vote for citizens in the spring.

If all goes as planned, the city's bill of rights will be added to the beginning of the city's charter.

"The city's bill of rights empowers the citizens and makes a strong statement," said Michael Hogg, a member of the charter review committee. "It's important to start our charter that way."

Port Richey's bill of rights includes 12 items. Among them: truth in government, the right to be heard and convenient access to conduct city business.

The ideas outlined in the document aren't new.

But in a city known for infighting and mudslinging — and on the verge of dissolving just one year ago — some say a bill of rights could create a sense of peace in the city by detailing what's expected of citizens and city officials.

"It's stating what we've known all along," said Phil Abts, council member. "We've had a lack of transparency in the past, and we've had contentious factions within the city that aren't able to agree. We're hoping to bring the city together as one."

City officials say a few months ago, while reviewing ways to update their charter and looking at charters of cities such as Miami Gardens, the idea for a bill of rights came about.

When the City Council interviewed and chose seven citizens, one alternate and three nonvoting members for the charter review committee, the issue became the first order of business.

"When you look at documents about our city, and what represents our city, this is the first thing someone is going to read," said Richard Reade, city manager. "This is what you should expect from your government."

In Miami Gardens, population 110,000, the city and its charter are only 5 years old, said Danny Crew, city manager.

Crew said he isn't sure where the components of its bill of rights came from, but that it's important to spell the ideas out for citizens to promote transparency in government.

"For us, it's made for a much more quiet and civil place," he said. "I think it's important to the staff of the city, so they know their orientation should be to the public."

Alene Burke, chair of Port Richey's charter review committee, said the bill of rights is a good start for the committee's work.

"It makes common sense," she said, "and it's democratic."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

fast facts

What's next

As part of the review of the city charter, officials are also considering lengthening the terms for City Council members from two years to four. The City Council and charter review committee will discuss the idea, and residents will decide the issue during a spring referendum.

Port Richey looks to add bill of rights to charter 11/13/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 11:25pm]

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