Oldsmar residents will be asked to make decisions on three proposed changes to the city charter when they go to the polls Tuesday. A city charter is like the constitution of a local government. It sets the rules city government live by, and it cannot be amended without a referendum. Once changes are approved, they cannot be undone without another vote. So voters should consider carefully each proposal on the ballot.
The three proposed changes were recommended by a seven-member charter review committee appointed by the City Council last April.
Changes would allow longer tenure
Questions No. 1 and 2 both relate to the length of time that City Council members may remain on council, so we will consider them together. The charter review committee unanimously agreed that these questions should appear on the ballot and that council members should be able to serve longer.
Question No. 1 asks if council members should be allowed to run for three consecutive terms rather than the current two terms. Question No. 2 asks if the voters favor electing a mayor and council members for three-year terms instead of two-year terms.
Under the provisions of the current city charter, council members may serve a maximum of four consecutive years. The combination of unusually short terms and a two-term limit does not serve Oldsmar well.
Oldsmar residents have observed frequent turmoil in their city government in recent years. City managers have come and gone, and the City Council often has been fractured. All of that can't be blamed on the city charter provisions. Politics often has interfered with good government in Oldsmar.
But the city has lacked continuity in important positions, and these two charter changes could help fix that problem.
Two-year terms are far too short, and are atypical among Pinellas County municipalities. Three-year terms are more common.
New council members often take a year to learn the system and develop the confidence to push their own programs. By that time, their terms are half finished.Two-year terms prevent elected officials from accomplishing much in their first term and create a system whereby officials are tempted to remain constantly in a pre-election mode, fearful of facing difficult issues or making tough decisions because the next election isn't far away.
The limitation to two consecutive terms also seems unnecessarily confining. Elected officials who perform their jobs responsibly and have the support of the community should be able to remain in office long enough for the community to benefit from their contributions. If question No. 1 is approved and question No. 2 is not, council members will be able to serve six years in office. If both questions are approved, council members will have a maximum tenure of nine years.
We recommend a yes vote on questions 1 and 2.
Vote change could foster instability
Question No. 3 concerns the number of votes required on the five-member City Council to fire the city manager, city attorney or city clerk. The current charter requires a four-fifths vote. The question on the ballot asks if that charter provision should be changed so those employees can be fired with only three council votes.
We strongly disagree with the suggestion that a simple majority should be able to fire those employees. A super-majority vote is required in many cities, specifically to protect these vulnerable employees _ especially the city manager _ from being fired just because the political winds shift or the council majority changes.
The charter review committee did not reach unanimous agreement on this proposal. The committee chairman, former council member Richard Massman, is adamantly against the idea and is critical of the way the decision was made to place this question on the ballot. The committee had little discussion of the issue in its three meetings. The discussion, if you can call it that, took only about 10 minutes, according to Massman, who says other committee members seemed to have made up their minds before the committee even convened.
Given the turbulent political environment in Oldsmar, this seems a particularly wrong-headed proposal. There have been rumors that some council members want to change city managers or even adopt a strong-mayor form of government. The council's recent decision to give Lou Draughon, a conscientious city employee who was assistant to City Manager Bruce Haddock, the boot was perceived by some residents as a move to undermine the manager.
If a city manager is doing a bad job, there will be no problem getting a four-fifths vote. If the manager is doing a good job, he or she deserves to continue in that position and not have to fear the next time an election changes the council majority. A three-fifths vote leads to instability in city government, politicizes the manager's office and encourages council interference in the management of the city.
We strongly recommend a no vote on question 3.