‘Home Rule Heroes’ fight to keep Tallahassee at bay

Along 10 miles of south beach coastline exist four unique communities. From high-rise condo living in one to the small-town feel of another, the differences are often the draw. Perhaps a large recreation department is important, or maybe whether a vacation rental is permitted next door.

In each municipality, locally elected officials attempt to maintain the environment that drew residents to it. The belief that these local officials understand what the constituents of their community want – better than the legislators in Tallahassee – is the founding tenet of home rule.

For just over 50 years, home rule for counties, cities, towns and incorporated villages has been part of the state constitution. It was granted by the state to give more power to local governments, enabling them to make decisions they believe are in the best interest of their unique community.

But it’s under attack as state officials regularly attempt to pass laws aimed at taking power away from municipalities to pass or maintain local ordinances.

Many local officials continue to fight for the belief that local issues should be handled with local solutions, such as issues related to guns, vacation rentals, marijuana dispensaries and, most recently, the ability to ban plastics. A bill that would have voided the single-use plastic ban enacted by several communities was vetoed last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “We live local” is the new mantra of the Florida League of Cities, an organization comprised of local government officials who work to promote local self-government.

Each year they recognize a group of people they call Home Rule Heroes “for their tireless efforts to protect the home rule powers of Florida’s municipalities.”

This year, four local beachside officials received the honor: Indian Harbour Beach City Manager Mark Ryan, City of Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker, City of Satellite Beach City Councilman Dominick Montanaro, and Town of Indialantic Deputy Mayor Stuart Glass. This is not a first-time win for any of them – they were each honored last year as well, and many in multiple years.

Others recognized in Brevard County include City of Melbourne Mayor Kathy Meehan, City of Rockledge Mayor Brenda Fettrow, City of Cocoa City Manager John Titkanich, and City of Cocoa Beach Commissioner Mike Miller.

“The dedication and effort of these local officials during the 2019 legislative session was extraordinary,” said FLC Legislative Director Scott Dudley. “These are some of our biggest advocates for municipal issues, and they’re shining examples of local advocacy in action. On behalf of the League and its legislative team, we’re proud to recognize each and every one of them and thank them for their service.”

Indialantic Deputy Mayor Stu Glass said home rule is really the concept that one size does not fit all. “No two communities are identical, each one of us are different, and our residents like it that way,” Glass said. “Issues that are closest to the people need to be handled locally.”

One such issue in Indialantic is limits on building height.

“We have a limit on building height and our residents want it that way, but our neighbors in the beautiful community of Satellite Beach allow higher buildings,” Glass said. “It’s very well thought out and planned to suit their needs. We are all in touch with our residents and we react in the appropriate way for them.”

One issue Glass has his eye on is the implementation of 5G (fifth-generation cellular network). He believes it’s faster and has unlimited capabilities, but also thinks local government should have some say in its execution because it involves installing a series of different, new towers in town – some right in the backyard of residents.

“At a state level, yes this network is the best and the newest, but it’s very difficult for cell companies to go into different communities with different building standards,” Glass said. “We are not opposed to the tech, we just want to handle the implementation – how many, how high, the appearance, etc. We want to have some control over that.”

Indian Harbour Beach City Manager Mark Ryan advocated for a variety of issues this year ranging from allowing cities and counties to continue to regulate vacation rental properties, to allowing cities to establish smoke-free zones in public parks.

“I am engaged in the legislative process on behalf of the city, and as the chairperson of the Florida City County Management Association Legislative Committee,” Ryan said. “We advocated for and in opposition to legislation that impacts communities and their residents. I have made numerous trips to Tallahassee to speak before committees on these bills, along with meeting with legislative aides to seek support or opposition.”

In Satellite Beach, City Councilman Dominick Montanaro also worked to curtail the threat to strip his city of the ability to enforce an ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. In addition, he opposed preemptions against the ability to regulate businesses, land use and the right to control what is allowed in right of ways.

He said this year, most of the “bad legislation” was eliminated or amended to curtail adverse effects on cities.

“Residents in Satellite Beach expect our City Council to control the quality-of-life issues they deem important. There were many other elected officials like myself who made their voices heard,” Montanaro said. “We had many ordinary engaged citizens who also voiced their concerns to legislators. We need people to be more involved in the process every year because the legislature is attempting to trample on your quality of life. They listen to voters better than they listen to me, understand the issues and speak up.”

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