SEBASTIAN – The Sebastian Charter Review Committee spent one last meeting going over the changes to the charter it wants to recommend to the Sebastian City Council.
Two public hearings will be held in May to take citizen input before the committee reports to the council in June. The public hearings will be televised live on Comcast channel 25 in Sebastian.
Among the proposed changes discussed Tuesday evening was setting term limits for council members – if elected to 4-year terms.
“It becomes difficult to remove someone” who in “entrenched,” said committee member Ed Dodd, who proposed a limit of two consecutive 4-year terms.
His recommendation was narrowly approved with a vote of 6 to 5 to add to the list of proposed charter changes.
Dodd said while he does not support moving to 4-year council terms, he would support putting a limit to the amount of time a 4-year council member could remain on council.
Four years is an “ample amount of time to become entrenched,” he said, adding that the collective memory of the electorate is “very limited.
Dodd added that a council member could do serious damage in the first couple years of his or her term, then work to repair the reputation in time for the next election.
Fellow committee member Bob Zomok said the term limits would create a “fail safe” for voters.
Committee Chair Louise Kautenburg said she would not support the term limits, explaining that an election is an “automatic term limit” and that voters could just vote for the other candidate.
The Charter Review Committee is split in its support of 4-year terms for the Sebastian City Council but members agreed it is a question that should be asked of the voters.
The purpose of moving from 2-year to 4-year terms would be to save the city the expense of holding elections on odd-numbered years. By moving to 4-year terms, the city’s election would piggy-back on the county’s election, saving the city around $30,000.
The council members’ terms would be staggered – with three members elected at one time and two elected two years later.
If the 4-year term were approved by voters this November, it would go into effect immediately, City Attorney Robert Ginsburg said. Those candidates that run for the upcoming election would not know until election night if they would serve a 2-year or, because this is an odd-numbered year, a 3-year term.
If the Sebastian City Council approves of putting the question of term-length on the ballot, Ginsburg said he would have to work out the language for this transition year, as it would be possible for someone to be elected for three years and then re-elected to four years and not trigger the 8-year 2-term limit.
If the voters were to reject the 4-year terms, there would be no term limits set for Sebastian City Council members.
The two public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. in the Sebastian Council Chambers on May 12 and 26. After the hearings, the committee will finalize its proposed charter changes and submit them to the Sebastian City Council.
The council is expected to take up the proposal in June with two public readings, giving the public two more chances to address the changes before directing City Attorney Ginsburg to draft the ballot language for the November election.
Other proposed changes to the Sebastian City Charter:
Section 1.02(1) Extraterritorial Power – remove “poor houses”
Section 1.02(6) Dairies and stock – remove “dairies and slaughter houses”
Section 2.03 Elections & Section 2.04 Terms – hold elections on even-numbered years and set 4-year terms for council with a limit of two consecutive terms
Section 2.08 Vacancies; forfeiture of office; filling of vacancies – modify language to include a timeframe of 30 days in which the council should appoint someone to fill the vacant seat; appointee to serve until next election; if term of the appointed seat extends past the next election, then candidates must announce they are running for the remainder of that term.
Section 2.09 Judge of qualifications – replace with language consistent with state law that a court would be responsible for determining if a candidate were qualified to hold office.
Section 2.10 & 2.11 City Council-employee relationship; Investigations – modify language of sections as they are in conflict. Essentially, 2.10 states council members are not allowed to give orders to employees while 2.11 states employees are guilty of misdemeanor if they disobey an order from the council.
Section 3.03 Removal of Charter Officer – delete second paragraph (paragraph B)
Section 4.07 Elections, How arranged; inspectors and clerks – delete section due to redundancy; charter already requires city to follow Florida law.
Section 4.08(c) Monday special meeting – replace with language to the effect that would change the timing for the swearing in of new council members.
Section 4.12 Election procedures, tied vote – amend language to allow for tied council candidates to draw lots (flip coin, draw straws, etc.) for contested seat; would eliminate need for special election at city expense.
Section 4.13 Conduct of candidates for election office – delete section as redundant and covered under Section 2.09.
To read the full text of the City of Sebastian Charter, click HERE.