League of Women Voters believes county charter poses too much risk

MANATEE COUNTY – The League of Women Voters of Manatee County (LWV) no longer fully supports Manatee County becoming a charter government at this time.

On Tuesday, the League issued a written statement in response to the charter-related Anna Maria City Commission work session that took place on Monday.
Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse has been leading the latest effort to make Manatee County the 21st chartered county in Florida and he initiated preliminary discussion about a potential county charter during the Feb. 2 Council of Governments meeting.

As a non-charter county, the Manatee County government is structured, organized and operated according to state statutes. During the Council of Governments meeting, Kruse said the adoption of a county charter would allow the county’s registered voters to impose commission term limits, removal from office procedures, campaign finance restrictions and more if so desired.

During that meeting, several mayors, commissioners and city officials from Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Bradenton, Palmetto and Longboat Key expressed concerns and/or opposition to the pursuit of a county charter.

The city officials’ primary concern was the fear that the initial county charter could be written or amended later in a manner that would allow the county and the county commission to enact laws, regulations and codes that could potentially preempt and nullify city ordinances, regulations and codes – including those that pertain to land use, development and the use of public beaches.

In response to those concerns, Kruse claimed a “starter charter” could be written in a manner that would not supersede existing city laws, codes and regulations. He also said a starter charter could include a provision that would require at least 60% support from county voters in order to later amend it.

As part of the law firm that serves as the city attorneys’ office for the city of Anna Maria, attorney Wade Vose has stated on more than one occasion that a 60% charter amendment threshold would violate the Florida Constitution.

LWV statement

The League of Women Voters’ written statement begins by addressing the 60% threshold.

“Let us start with the poison pill for Manatee County charter government. State regulations require changes to a county charter be voted with a 50% + one person approval. A county is not allowed to put that bar at 60% or 66%. This makes changes to a charter fairly easy to pass,” the LWV statement says.

“Monday, Anna Maria hosted a work session with Wade Vose, an eminently qualified attorney who has worked extensively on charter revision commissions, and on other charter related issues. His presentation was only to point out the risks to municipalities of charter. It had none of the advantages (which are still significant) that are the reason the League of Women Voters of Manatee County supports charter.

“The major fear of the municipalities is preemption of their regulations and ordinances by the county, especially land use preemption. This can easily be rectified with a provision in the charter that states that the county cannot override any municipal provisions,” the statement says.

“Now we come to the reason that the Manatee charter government will not fly under current state regulations. The state has dictated that a charter county must have 50% +one person to change the charter and this restriction makes it too easy to change the charter. Even if a provision is put in the charter prohibiting the county from overriding city ordinances, the cities will not want, nor should they, to take any chance that at some future election that provision would be eliminated.  
“An example: Manatee becomes a charter county and has a provision that the county will not override municipal ordinances. Four Seasons wants to put a resort hotel in Anna Maria. They could do massive advertising and give large infusions money to commissioner’s campaigns. With only 50% plus one needed to pass, they could use their influence to get this provision voted out of the charter. Then the commission could allow the resort hotel on the grounds that we should allow people to do what they want with their property and it will bring jobs.

“As much as the League supports charter government for Manatee County for all the flexibility and citizen input it allows, until the State of Florida allows charters to have a higher threshold for changes to the charter, the risks of manipulation and undue influence are too high,” the LWV statement concludes.