Oldsmar voters need to do the right thing again
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002
Near the end of a very long election ballot Nov. 5, Oldsmar voters will find two referendum questions asking them to make it easier for the Oldsmar City Council to oust the city's charter officials.
We suggest voters exercise their right to press their finger to the touch screen beside the word "No."
The last thing Oldsmar needs is less stability in city government, particularly in the ranks of professional administrators who keep the city on track through elections and shifts in the political winds.
Twice since 1990, Oldsmar voters have been asked to change the charter so the five-member City Council could fire charter officials -- the city manager, city attorney and city clerk -- with only a simple majority of three votes rather than the currently required four votes. Voters did the right thing and turned down the proposal in 1990 and 1997, but here it comes again.
There are many good reasons to vote "no" a third time.
The city manager, city attorney and city clerk are hired by the City Council and work at the pleasure of the council. That very fact makes the positions a potential flash point in the world of local politics. A charter official who has good evaluations and the support of the council one day can be in trouble the next if an election changes even one seat.
Because of that inherent instability, and because charter officials are trained professionals crucial to the smooth operation of city government, many communities build into their charters a provision to make it difficult to fire them on a whim. Some cities require a super-majority vote of the city council or city commission. Other cities require majority votes at two different council meetings separated by a cooling-off period.
The proposals on the Nov. 5 Oldsmar ballot would do neither of those. Question No. 1 asks that the City Charter be amended to allow the city manager, city clerk and city attorney to be hired and fired on a single three-fifths vote. Question No. 2 asks if only the city manager could be hired and fired on a three-fifths vote.
No super-majority vote. No cooling-off period. No second vote required. In one vote taken at only one meeting, a charter official could be out of a job.
It is never a good idea to make it too easy for politicians to toss people out of their jobs. It is even less so in Oldsmar, which has a reputation for political volatility. Even members of the City Council must know that -- only two of them have made comments expressing support for the charter amendment.
The current four-fifths requirement originally was placed in the charter by the voters, and it has worked well. In the past, charter officials that only three council members wanted to oust because they were mad about something have survived because of the super-majority provision. On the other hand, a former city clerk was fired on a 4-1 vote in 1997 after she lost the support of the council.
A four-fifths vote is not an impediment to getting rid of an unsatisfactory employee. But it does make the task more difficult unless the parties that want the employee out have proven their case.
The requirement for a super-majority is therefore a protection for both the charter official and the public. Oldsmar residents in the past approved a city manager form of government for their city, meaning they wanted someone with professional credentials and training running the city on a day-to-day basis. A change to a three-fifths vote not only would make it more difficult to achieve that kind of professionalism and continuity over time, it also would make it more difficult to recruit new city managers.
There is a third referendum question Nov. 5 that would change charter wording that spells out when the vice mayor must be appointed. Unlike the first two questions, this one is just a simple housekeeping change. The wording needs to be modified to comply with the new three-year terms for City Council members. Voters should approve Question 3.
-- We recommend a no vote on Questions 1 and 2, and a yes vote on Question 3.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks