SEBASTIAN – The Sebastian Charter Review Committee wants to put a question before voters – would they support extending City Council terms to four years?
The committee itself appears to be of two minds on the subject. And the input individual members got from asking around was equally split.
It is one of a handful of proposed changes the committee is considering puting forth to Sebastian City Council, seeking the board’s approval to put the questions on the November ballot.
The City of Sebastian spends approximately $35,000 on the municipal elections it holds on odd-numbered years. On even-numbered years, the city pays nothing due to the ability of piggy-backing on the county’s elections.
Currently, Sebastian Council members are elected to two-year terms with two elected on even years and three on uneven years, so terms are staggered.
“It’s not a back-breaker,” committee member Ed Dodd said of the $35,000 the city spends every other year.
He reported that the people with whom he had spoken said they would not support 4-year terms. Dodd explained that they felt council members are more accountable to the voters when they serve two years at a time.
Other committee members countered, saying that it takes a year for new council members to get up to speed, and by the time they have, they have shifted gears toward seeking re-election.
Committee member Carolyn Sartain-Anderson said that she had received numerous emails from people – many saying they want to leave things the way the are, many others saying they are undecided.
Nearly all the 13 committee members in attendance agreed that having the ability to stagger the council members’ terms is preferable, which put to rest one option the committee briefly considered.
That option would have been for all five council members be up for election every even-numbered year.
“That could be catastrophic,” Committee Chair Louise Kautenburg said.
Committee member John Danise said that it would be unlikely the city would have five new council members all at the same time, but the city has competent staff.
Vice Chair Bob Zomok suggested splitting the council into two- and four-year-term seats, but his fellow committee members were not receptive.
“I think you would confuse people,” member Jeanne Hill said.
“No one would run for the two-year” seat, Dodd said.
Dodd argued that the cost savings to the city – $35,000 every other year – would not be enough to help the city’s budget. He said it wouldn’t cover the cost of a salary or help end the city-mandated furloughs.
Danise countered, noting that the cost for elections is only increasing, not decreasing, and at some point could make a difference to the city’s bottom line.
The committee put the matter to rest, voting nine to four it suggest four-year staggered terms elected on even-numbered years.
“If the council rejects this, things will stay the way they are,” committee member Mary McGee said.
The committee also put on their list of possible recommendations to the Sebastian City Council the following:
-Changing the start of the council members’ terms to provide the Elections Board time to certify the results and resolve any elections disputes.
-Changing or deleting language that contradicts other portions of the charter.
-Modifying language that pertains to removing a council member from office.
To that end, the committee discussed one of the conditions under which a council member could be removed from office – convicted of a crime of moral turpitude.
Kautenburg said that she knew of a Sebastian resident who was denied permission to serve on a city committee because the resident had smoked marijuana in his youth.
Moral turpitude is “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards.”
“It’s not just any crime,” Kautenburg said, explaining that it’s one that goes against the sensibilities of the community.
“Then pot wouldn’t be a problem,” McGee joked, drawing laughter from her fellow committee members during a moment of levity.
City Attorney Robert Ginsburg told the committee that he would review the language and bring back a possible substitution at a later committee meeting.
The Sebastian Charter Review Committee has until June to come up with its recommendations for changes to the city charter. At that time, the committee will pass the recommendations to the City Council, which will then accept, reject or modify the various recommendations and approve them for the November ballot.
The next committee meeting will be April 11 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 1225 Main St.