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Oldsmar charter may be altered

Next Tuesday, Oldsmar voters could alter the shape of city government by deciding the fate of three proposed changes in the charter that guides the way the city is run. Two of the three proposals would change how long City Council members can stay in office, while the third would make it easier to oust the city's top employees.

Currently the charter limits the five council members to two two-year terms in office, for a maximum of four years.

One of the proposed changes would allow the council members to serve three terms. The other would lengthen the terms to three years.

Because those two proposals are presented separately on the ballot, the voters could approve one and not the other. They could grant the council members three two-year terms, or they could limit the council to a pair of three-year terms.

But if they approve both changes, then a popular council member could serve up to nine years in office.

While the council members could wind up keeping their jobs longer, the other proposed change in the charter could shorten the terms of the city manager, city clerk and city attorney.

Currently the charter says that to fire those three employees requires the approval of four of the five council members. Next week's referendum could change that to a three-fifths vote, making it easier to fire those employees.

City Manager Bruce Haddock asked the council to drop that third proposal because the top city employees don't have much job security, anyway, but the council members voted unanimously to put all three items on the ballot.

"I will never stand in the way of something going to the voters," Vice Mayor Jerry Provenzano said.

But that doesn't mean the council members think those proposals are good ideas. Mayor Tom Pinta, for instance, intends to vote against all three.

Council member Dotty Lee, who often disagrees with Pinta, nevertheless is on the same side when it comes to the first two proposals on the ballot. Council members shouldn't be allowed to avoid the voters for long, she said.

"Many, many times I have seen people elected in Oldsmar, and one year of them was enough," Lee said.

But unlike Pinta, Lee likes the idea of the three-fifths vote for firing the city's top employees. "The majority rules on everything else, so it should rule on this," she said.

Provenzano and council member Earl Halle disagree with Lee on that point. Both said they worry that making it easier to fire those employees would make the city's administration more political than professional.

And unlike Pinta and Lee, they both favor longer terms for the council, saying it would give the city more stability and let city officials concentrate on doing their jobs.

"A lot of people get elected to the council and the next day they begin their campaign for re-election," Halle said. "I would actually prefer unlimited terms. People are going to vote you out if you're not doing a good job."

Council member Jerry Beverland could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Despite their strong feelings on the issues coming up next week, none of the council members is out campaigning for or against the referendum items. Halle said that's because it's up to the people to decide whether to change the charter.

"It's not my position to tell the people what to do," he explained.

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