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    A Times Editorial

    Vote yes on Dunedin charter amendment

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 10, 2003

    Dunedin voters will go to the polls Tuesday to choose two new city commissioners, but they also will find a referendum question on the ballot. City commissioners want voters to clear up confusion that occurred last fall when they needed to fill two vacancies on the City Commission.

    The situation turned out to be far from routine.

    Two of the five members of the commission, Mayor Tom Anderson and Commissioner Janet Henderson, were running for the state Legislature. To do so, they were required to resign their City Commission seats last July, with the resignations becoming effective on the day of the general election in November whether they won or lost.

    The city charter, which is a body of laws that determines how city government will operate, states that vacancies on the City Commission will be filled by a majority vote of the remaining members of the commission within 60 days after the vacancy occurs. The appointee serves until the next regular election.

    That seems simple. In fact, it was too simple for the situation that arose.

    One of those three remaining commissioners, John Doglione, said he wanted to be appointed to fill the mayor's post. The charter didn't say specifically whether one of the remaining commissioners could be appointed to one of the vacancies. The situation got even more complicated when Janet Henderson dropped out of the race for a legislative seat and expressed interest in getting appointed to the commission seat she had just left -- also an issue not addressed in the charter.

    Furthermore, the charter said nothing about how to go about filling commission vacancies. Should commissioners nominate people? Should applications from interested individuals be solicited? It said nothing about how long a temporary appointee could serve. And it didn't say what to do if the remaining commissioners couldn't agree on a replacement.

    Without clear guidance from the charter, but bound by law to fill the two vacancies within 60 days, commissioners decided to accept applications from interested residents, and they filled the mayor and commission seats by appointing two individuals who were not on the commission.

    But city officials conceded that the charter needed to be changed to more specifically address the issue of vacancies. Because the charter cannot be changed without the permission of voters, residents who go to the polls Tuesday will be asked to vote yes or no on this question:

    The proposed amendment to Section 3.07 (d) of the Charter shortens the time of appointment for a vacancy in office from sixty to thirty days; provides for a method of appointment of an incumbent commissioner to be mayor; provides that if there is no regular election within 360 days that a special election must be held to fill the vacancy and provides for an appointment by the governor if the commission fails to appoint.

    The changes might not address every situation that could arise, but they go a long way toward smoothing the process of filling vacancies and making sure that residents are adequately represented.

    -- The Times recommends a yes vote on changes to the Dunedin charter.

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