Sebastian Council to take one more swing at charter changes

SEBASTIAN – The Sebastian City Council is poised to let voters decide eight of the nine proposed changes to the city’s charter this November.

The council elected to remove one amendment from consideration – one that would decide tied elections with a coin toss or other similar method. The council also chose to remove a provision within one amendment that would have forced term limits on council members.

The discussion came as part of the first reading of ordinances that will eventually lead to charter changes being placed on the November ballot.

The final reading and last chance for public input will be July 13.

As such, the City Council is prepared to ask voters if they wish to have council members serve four-year instead of two-year terms, if charter officers can be removed from their posts without cause by a simple majority vote, and streamlining the way the council would fill vacancies at the dais, among other items.

Mayor Jim Hill and others on the council voiced opposition to the Sebastian Charter Review Advisory Committee’s suggestion to enact term limits. The committee had recommended term limits only if voters approve four-year council terms.

“Local politics is very cozy,” Hill said, explaining that, on the local level, residents and voters know the candidates for City Council very well – unlike at the state and federal level, where term limits might be more appropriate.

Councilwoman Andrea Coy added that she felt term limits would limit the power of the voters, something she is loathe to do.

The council decided 4-0 not to include the term limit issue on the ballot. Councilman Eugene Wolff, who had previously voted against moving forward with the four-year term question, was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

Using similar arguments about limiting the voice and power of the residents, council members also rejected a proposed amendment that would allow tied elections be decided by lot – as allowed under state law. “Lot” is any random chance selection, such as a coin toss, drawing of straws, or similar method.

Under current rules, tied votes are decided with a special election.

“It’s far too important,” Hill said of filling a council seat to leave it up to chance.

Coy suggested the council leave the provision on the list for consideration so as to give the public another chance to comment.

Instead, the council decided to not move forward with it and let it drop from consideration.

The Sebastian City Council also decided to tweak one of the proposed charter amendments – one that deals with filling vacancies on the council.

As proposed, the council would have to appoint someone within 30 days of a vacancy and that appointee would serve until the next city-wide election.

Instead, the Sebastian City Council would rather the charter allow the council to make an appointment within 45 days if there is no city-wide election within six months.

“It’s not very well thought out,” Hill said of the committee’s suggestion, noting that its recommendation requires the council to fill the seat regardless of how soon the next election will be.

“It really concerns me,” he said, explaining that it would be possible that during campaign season, there would be a vacancy and the seated council might have to appoint someone – creating a dual-campaign of sorts.

“It would be messy,” Vice Mayor Don Wright agreed.

Coy reminded the council that there have been times when the dais had only four members due to a vacancy – and that vacancy led to many tied votes.

“It got hairy,” she said of trying to get city business done without having that third vote.

City Attorney Robert Ginsburg is expected to finalize the language for the ordinances and bring them back to council on July 13 for the second and final reading.

Both the public and the council will get another chance to discuss and debate the proposed charter changes. After that discussion, the Sebastian City Council is expected to direct Ginsburg to craft the ballot language for whichever charter changes they wish to put to the voters.

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