St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies


Strengthen the charter: Four amendments would give more power to the county administrator, and the fifth would offer more time to make charter changes.

Published October 26, 2004

On Election Day, Pinellas voters will be asked to consider five changes related to the county charter.

Four of the proposed amendments would give more power to the county administrator, including the authority to fire employees without confirmation from county commissioners.

The fifth would give the group of public officials and citizens who spent half this year reviewing the charter more time to make changes.

This is the first time a group performing the review has asked for such an extension. The unusual step is necessary, board members say, because the group wants to strengthen the county charter and make it less dependent on state lawmakers.

Every six years, a charter review commission convenes to consider important changes, and this year's group tackled several important issues.

But this year, leaders shelved any serious changes beyond increasing the administrator's authority - even though such topics as transportation services, parks and recreation, annexation and EMS and fire service were on their agenda.

Susan Latvala, the chairwoman of the County Commission and a member of the charter group, said time was a factor.

"Many of the things that we are talking about are going to require consensus and talking to the people," Latvala said. "We had a public hearing, but we didn't have time to go out and talk about the issues."

Latvala said a good deal of trouble they encountered comes down to a larger issue of having a "weak charter." Because significant areas of the charter were created by special acts of the Legislature, many changes must be ratified by the state lawmakers. Yet the state officials end their session three months before the end of the charter review commission's designated January to July schedule.

There's also a requirement that one state legislator be on the charter review commission. Yet state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, missed four months because he was busy legislating in Tallahassee.

"It's another one of the weaknesses of our existing charter," Latvala said. "The language is very specific on when our commission can meet. It requires a legislator sit on (the board), and the first four months that person can't come."

Voters will be asked to ratify four changes to the county administrator's authority.

The fourth on the ballot is likely the most significant. It would allow the administrator to hire and fire any employee without cause and without the confirmation of the board.

County Administrator Steve Spratt says the change only applies to "exempt" employees, or managers and supervisors.

Classified employees - traditionally those in non-management positions - would still be protected by the County's Civil Service Plan, which guarantees the right to appeal terminations to a personnel board.

However that distinction is missing from the ballot language.

Spratt said the amendment modernizes the county management structure.

"In today's management world," Spratt said, "it doesn't make any sense for a department director to have a personnel problem, where dismissal is appropriate, that must be ratified by the County Commission.

"I think most people in the management world pretty much understand that should be a decision left with the executive, and not the legislative branch," Spratt said.

The first establishes a "non-interference" clause that clearly defines a separation of powers between commissioners and the administrator.

Under this amendment, commissioners develop, debate and approve policy, while the administrator carries it out. The clause would prohibit commissioners from giving direct orders to county staff, forcing them to go through the administrator.

The second amendment designates the county administrator as the county budget officer.

The third clarifies the board's procedure for terminating the administrator. The current policy requires a vote of five commissioners at any meeting, or a vote of four at two separate meetings. The amendment would require the four commissioners vote to terminate at two "consecutive, regularly scheduled" meetings.


Here are the amendments to the Pinellas County Charter as they will appear on the November ballot:

Amends charter to provide for prohibition of County Commission's interference with administration of county government.

Shall Article III of the Pinellas County Charter be amended to require that instructions and directives of the Board of County Commissioners and its individual members be issued solely through the County Administrator while allowing Board members to continue with interaction, communication and observation of county government operations?



Amends charter to designate county administrator as county budget officer

Shall a new section, 4.01(c)(5), be added to the Pinellas County Charter, which would designate the County Administrator as the County Budget Officer?



Amends voting requirement for terminating county administrator

Shall Section 4.01(a) of the Pinellas County Charter be amended to require, in addition to a single-meeting vote by five members, that any vote to remove the County Administrator by four members of the Board of County Commissioners must occur at two consecutive, regularly scheduled meetings?



Change in duties of the county administrator

Subject to the provisions of the County civil service plan, shall Article IV, sec. 4.01(c)(3), be amended to change the duties of the County Administrator by increasing his or her discretion to terminate from employment any employees of the Board of County Commissioners, with or without cause, without the confirmation by that Board?



Amends charter to reconstitute the 2004 Charter Review Commission with an expanded term.

Shall a new section 6.05 be added to the Pinellas County Charter which would reconstitute the 2004 Charter Review Commission for a new term from Nov. 8, 2004, through Dec. 1, 2006, with the power to examine county operations and the present charter, conduct necessary studies, consult with municipalities and the present Pinellas County Legislative Delegation and recommend appropriate revisions to the charter for submission to the electorate? YES, FOR APPROVAL


© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.