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  1. Opinion

Times Recommends: Yes on Largo charter amendments

At least every seven years, the Largo City Commission appoints a committee of residents to review the city charter and suggest changes. A city charter contains the laws under which a city government must operate, and it can only be changed by the voters. Here are the Times recommendations on proposed changes that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot in Largo.

Question 1

This catch-all charter amendment would correct clerical errors and make mostly minor changes, but a couple are more significant. One change would allow a sitting commissioner to be appointed to fill the mayor's post if it becomes vacant, until a replacement can be elected. Another would require the city to post a copy of the city budget on the city website.

On Question 1, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 2

It's politically unpopular for elected officials to raise their own salaries, so in some local governments their pay never goes up. Yet their costs for serving in office rise over time, and there should be a fair process spelled out in the charter for them to get a raise.

Under this proposed amendment, city commissioners would get the same percentage raise as city management employees, but no more than 3 percent in any year. And commissioners could vote to lower their raise. Commissioners currently make $13,125 annually and the mayor makes $19,688.

On Question 2, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 3

The current charter gives commissioners authority to conduct investigations of city employees and departments. This amendment would add that such investigations first must be approved by a City Commission vote. If the reasons for an inquiry are well founded and not based on a personal vendetta, a commissioner should be able to persuade a majority of his colleagues to approve it.

On Question 3, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 4

A referendum is required under the current charter if the commission wants to lease city-owned property to another party for more than five years. This proposed amendment would increase that to 10 years.

Many cities have such a provision so property can't be held by one lessee for many years without voter approval. But the lease term in other jurisdictions is usually longer than five years. Ten is a conservative increase.

On Question 4, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 5

If voters approve this question, an addition to the charter would give the city manager authority to execute grant applications and certain agreements after approval by the City Commission. The city manager is the chief executive officer of the city and ought to handle this kind of paperwork within his spending authority.

On Question 5, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 6

From time to time in any city, elected officials need to approve extra money or move money to pay for something that wasn't foreseen when the annual budget was approved. When that happens in Largo, the charter states the commission must do it via an ordinance, which means there must be two advertised public hearings.

To save time and the cost of advertising, this proposed amendment would change the ordinance requirement to a resolution requirement. While no advertised public hearing would be held, the resolution vote would be at a public meeting and the public would be able to speak on the resolution before the vote.

On Question 6, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 7

The Largo Planning Board, made up of residents appointed by the mayor, makes recommendations to the City Commission on land use and planning issues. It also makes final decisions on variance cases.

That decision-making authority is not spelled out in the current charter. If this amendment is approved, the Planning Board's decision-making authority on variances would be codified, and commissioners in the future could give the board some additional duties such as ruling on site plans. Those kinds of duties are typical on other cities' planning boards and would relieve some of the administrative burden on the elected officials.

On Question 7, the Times recommends a yes vote.

Question 8

Section 9.01 of the current charter reads: "No person shall be appointed to or removed from, or in any way favored or discriminated against with respect to any city position or office because of race, sex, political or religious opinions or affiliations." This proposed amendment would add these words to the end of that sentence: "age or national origin."

On Question 8, the Times recommends a yes vote.