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Charter review gets a 2-year extension

MICHAEL SANDLER
Published November 3, 2004

LARGO - Pinellas voters agreed that a board of citizens and elected officials should have two more years to make changes to the county's charter.

But they did not approve giving the county administrator unlimited authority to fire employees.

The overwhelming support for extending the charter review commission's timetable was one of four county charter amendments approved Tuesday.

Every six years, a charter review commission convenes to consider important changes.

This year, leaders shelved any serious changes beyond increasing the administrator's authority.

County Chairwoman Susan Latvala, who served on the charter review committee, said the group needed more time to coordinate with the state Legislature's calendar. Tuesday, voters agreed.

The group will reconvene in January. Recommendations will come back to voters in 2006.

"I think it gives us a chance," Latvala said Tuesday night. "It's clearly an opportunity for citizens to have input for the roles and responsibility of their county government for the future."

In addition to the extension, voters approved three of four amendments related to the county administrator's role.

Voters approved a "non-interference" clause that defines a separation of powers between commissioners and the administrator.

They also agreed the county administrator should be the county budget officer and the board's procedure for terminating the administrator should require two consecutive, regularly scheduled meetings when only four support termination.

A fourth amendment would have allowed the administrator to hire and fire any employee without cause, and without the confirmation of the board.

The charter review commission had intended for that to only apply to "exempt" employees, or managers and supervisors. But that distinction was missing from the ballot language.

"I've worried about that one all along," Latvala said. "It sounds like a power grab by the county administrator. It's not. But it was unclear to people when they read it."

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