Hillsborough commissioners are poised again to sabotage the citizen proposal for a county mayor. Today, the board will consider raising the threshold required to amend the county charter to 60 percent of the vote, up from the current simple majority. The move is an unjust power grab that commissioners should drop.
The charter is the guiding legal framework for Hillsborough County. It spells out what power officials have and how county government operates. Adopted by the voters in 1983, it exists to promote self-rule. The purpose of a charter is to give citizens a direct hand in managing their community. That's why putting up barriers to amend it is so out of kilter. It amasses power in a document meant to diffuse it.
Commissioners tried to raise the threshold in 2006 as part of their effort to kill a county mayor proposal. The current proposal could undermine the mayoral effort, too. While the measure calls for the charter change to be sent to the voters in November 2010, when the mayoral vote is also expected, the board has the authority to set an earlier date. That could subject the mayoral question to a higher threshold.
But the potential damage here goes beyond the question of whether to create a mayor. Making it harder to amend the charter would weaken one of the few checks on the commission's power as the sole policymaking branch of county government. Proponents say moving the threshold to 60 percent protects the amendment process from abuse. But the county's move to raise the voting threshold is not in response to any assault on the charter. Indeed, it costs citizens an incredible amount of money and time to gather the signatures necessary to put a petition on the ballot. Commissioners, on the other hand, can simply vote to put an amendment on the ballot. They would be the ones in this case abusing the amendment process.
Commissioners should reject the proposal. It would be a naked power grab that would only add to the case for creating a county mayor.