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Charters, bureaucrats' terms dot elections

Four beach communities will be asked to update city charters and change elected officials' terms in elections the next two Tuesdays.

By AMY WIMMER and SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002


From term limits to term extensions, salary increases to bureaucratic details, voters in four coastal towns will cast ballots on changes to their city charters.

The number of towns hosting referendums was expected to be five, but Redington Beach canceled its election Friday morning, just four days before the planned referendum.

The town did not have enough candidates run for office to necessitate an election -- in fact, no one ran for one seat, forcing the commission to appoint someone. Without a commission race, the town was asking voters to come to the polls to approve a salary increase for the mayor and commissioners.

The election would have cost $5,000 -- more than the commissioners and mayor currently earn in an entire year.

"It won't come up again until at least the next election," Mayor Jerry Reitz said.

In referendums elsewhere:

South Pasadena

Voters will be asked to consider a myriad of minor changes in the city charter, including clarifications about the Charter Review Committee, which meets in South Pasadena every six years to consider updating the document that outlines city government.

Other proposals are more controversial. One allows commissioners' salaries, currently $475 per month, to increase automatically each year according to the Social Security adjustment.

The other extends term limits in the city, an issue that became controversial last year when Mayor Fred Held wanted to run for an additional term. The charter change would allow elected officials to serve four consecutive elected full or partial terms of three years each, rather than three consecutive terms, as the charter now stipulates.

Held became mayor in 1994, appointed by the commission when the former mayor resigned with one year remaining in her term. Held was then elected to three-year terms in 1995 and 1998.

The City Commission ruled last year that the charter allowed Held to seek a third elected term, though the charter question on the ballot Tuesday clarifies that issue. If approved, the charter change would allow Held to run for re-election in 2004.

Belleair Beach

For the second time in two years, voters in Belleair Beach will be asked March 12 to approve a new charter, except this time there are virtually no changes that might stir controversy.

The form of government is left unchanged, unlike the charter referendum defeated last year by a 3-to-2 ratio. At that time, the city proposed switching to a city manager form of government.

This year's charter referendum is billed as a "language clean-up" and reorganization to clarify provisions already in place.

The only significant change affects how decisions of the city's Board of Adjustment may be appealed. Presently, board decisions can be appealed to the City Council. The proposed charter would make these decisions final and only appealable through the court system.

The new charter specifically states that neither the city's police department nor the public works departments can be dissolved except by voter referendum.

Residents rejected a referendum to disband the department in the mid 1990s and again in 1999 by a wide. Last year's unsuccessful attempt to revise the city's charter would have removed charter protection for the police department.

Indian Rocks Beach

Voters in Indian Rocks Beach will decide March 12 whether to extend their mayor and commissioners' terms from two to three years.

They also will cast ballots on whether the city should sell a piece of property at 201 Second St.

The property consists of about 1 acre that the city uses to house its solid waste operation. The master lift station is there, as well as Keegan Clair Park and storage for city garbage trucks.

An economist helping the city determine the future of the Narrows business district urged Indian Rocks Beach to consider moving its solid waste operation onto the mainland. The city does not yet have an appraisal on the property it might sell, but knows the sale will generate more than enough money to pay for relocation of solid waste services.

The city will retain a portion of the property as Keegan Clair Park, and is uncertain what type of development might occur there if the site sells. Among other possibilities, City Manager Tom Brobeil suggested that a waterfront restaurant likely would be interested in the space.

St. Pete Beach

Voters in St. Pete Beach will vote March 12 on two charter changes.

One referendum question involves extending the mayor's term of office from two to three years. Commission terms would remain two years.

Mayoral races typically draw more voters in St. Pete Beach. This change would alternate which district races are held concurrently with the mayor's race, allowing different districts to benefit from the higher turnout of a mayor's race.

This year, for example, districts 1 and 3 are electing commissioners. If this referendum question is approved, a mayor would be elected again in 2005, when districts 2 and 4 are up for election.

The other referendum issue here would do away with district voting.

The city currently is one of the few in Pinellas where commissioners are elected by their home districts. The change would give all city residents a vote on commissioners from each district, though those district commissioners still would be required to live in the district they represent.

A group of residents also will be collecting signatures to get another referendum question on the ballot next year. Former commissioner John Bailey and former Mayor Terry Gannon want a charter change to require that all city expenditures of more than $1-million go to referendum. Their idea was prompted by construction of a new City Hall, at $3.4-million the largest city expenditure that was not approved by referendum.

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