DUNEDIN — Confused about the city's proposal to lengthen the commission's time in office? Don't worry — you're not the only one.
The proposal to shift from three-year to four-year terms has elicited lots of questions in recent months, including one that has been particularly sticky: Will the current commissioners get extra time?
Using information provided by City Clerk Jerie Guegan, city commissioners and the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office, here are some answers.
What are the city's elections like now?
Voters choose the mayor and two commissioners one year and the other two commissioners the next. The seats cycle every three years.
What's the problem?
City elections are held in March; federal, state and county elections are held in November. Local elections without simultaneous voting for higher office typically have low turnout. Also, having two separate elections bumps up the cost — under current law, the city would hold 14 elections over the next two decades at a cost of $700,000.
What's the proposal?
Guegan says that, for the city to "piggyback" on other elections most efficiently, it would need to do two things: move elections to November, and match its term lengths on an even-year schedule like most other governments do. That second part is what's contentious: The commissioners of future elections would get another year in office.
Would members of the current commission get an extra year?
No. Four-year terms would begin after the 2012 election. The two commission seats voted on in March 2011 would be up for re-election in 2014.
According to Guegan's 20-year estimates, any change would be cheaper. Lengthening the term to four years would cost about $500,000. Moving the vote to November, but keeping terms at three years, would cost about $385,000. The real savings comes when both are put in place: 11 elections, nearly all in synch with the county elections, for a cost of $100,000.
Who supports the changes?
Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioner Dave Carson said they thought both parts of the proposal made sense. So did an election review committee of 10 city residents. Commissioner Ron Barnette said he'd like more public input before deciding, and Julie Ward Bujalski was not present at Thursday's first reading.
Who's against it?
Vice Mayor Julie Scales said she doubted the savings estimates and found no "compelling reason" to change. "I'm not comfortable at all with extending the terms of the elected, even if it doesn't affect me at all. I personally think that's self-serving," she said. "We're talking about a fundamental process in our democratic system. It's about more than just money." Others have suggested general elections might overshadow the smaller-scale commission campaigns.
What's the next step?
City Attorney John Hubbard will clarify an ordinance pitched at Thursday's first hearing and present a revised version at its second reading June 3.
If the commission approves, the change will be brought before voters during the election on Nov. 2.
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.