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Civic group renews push for home-rule vote in November

Even more power to the people is the rallying cry behind a local civic group's attempt to make wholesale changes to county government.

The Citrus County Council, a residents' group that represents almost 20 organizations throughout Citrus, including homeowner associations and activist groups, launched a campaign Thursday to place a question on the Nov. 2 ballot that would ask voters to make the county a "home-rule" government.

Citrus County government is structured according to early rules established as far back as when the 1886 Florida Constitution was passed. But laws passed in 1968 allow for a more customized form of government called home rule, or charter government, said Morris Harvey, president of the council.

A charter frees local governments from some constraints of the state Legislature and gives them more authority when it comes to money. Charter counties also can give residents more power to amend local law and even recall their elected officials through the referendum process and countywide votes.

The idea of making Citrus a home-rule county was batted around in the 1990s by the council and the League of Women Voters, partly because members wanted more control in setting commissioners' salaries and power.

Harvey said a move to home rule could be the answer for the current "unresponsive representative government" and would allow residents to become more involved than they are now.

"I think citizens need to have options to go around the government when the government for whatever reason refuses to act," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause of Florida, a nonprofit, nonpartisan political group devoted to more effective and open government. Common Cause does not endorse or oppose home-rule governing.

Nineteen of Florida's 67 counties use home rule, according to the Florida Association of Counties. More than 80 percent of the state's residents are governed by charter governments, Harvey said.

To put the question of home rule to voters, the Citrus County Council would need to convince county commissioners to place the idea on the ballot or else secure signatures from about 15 percent of the county's registered voters, Harvey said.

The group plans to speak with county leaders and the public at workshops and other events.

Virginia Miller, a member of the League of Women Voters, grew excited hearing that the council would be pushing for home rule, a project the league took up but abandoned years ago when faced with county opposition.

She said charter government gives residents more power over their elected representatives, who are supposed to serve the people.

"Regardless of whether they're good or not," she said, "we have no control."

_ Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

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