Roughly a dozen people showed up to Palm Coast government’s first of four public charter-review workshop at Matanzas High School early this evening, the latest of many indications over the past few years that residents’ interest in revamping the city’s equivalent of a constitution is slight to non-existent. The workshop itself was not exactly absorbing: it was more late-night infomercial than Ted Talk.
What public comment was offered was limited to three-minute segments per comment at the beginning and end of the meeting, somewhat belying the workshops’ advertised claim that they are intended for public participation: the bulk of the time was taken up by the facilitator explaining, lecturing and parsing the charter review process and the existing charter’s strengths and weaknesses, focusing on its first five sections.
The workshop was held at Matanzas’s cafeteria, which has a capacity of 439. There were more people in the room than the 13 or 14 who could be considered strictly members of the public at large. But those were four council members, the city attorney, several city staffers (including City Manager Jim Landon), three reporters and a cop. In other words, the people on the periphery of the meeting outnumbered the people for whom the meeting was held.
Nevertheless, the University of Central Florida’s Marilyn Crotty, whom the city hired as its moderator for these workshops, put a brighter face on the turnout, calling it “encouraging,” because at many other charter-review sessions she moderates, “by and large very few citizens show up.”
Formalities and generalities aside, the most animated part of the meeting were for the most part replays of council debates about what the charter review process should be like, rather than what should be in the charter.
Palm Coast has never conducted a comprehensive review of its charter since incorporating in 1999. The charter states it “may be reviewed” every 10 years. Council member Steven Nobile has been leading the charge for a review, failing to convince his colleagues on two occasions previously and finally winning their approval but for a process that significantly dilutes control of the review by anyone other than the council and its chosen facilitator: while there will be four public workshops, public input is limited to the same kind of input provided for at the beginning and the end of council meetings and workshops. The council, not the public, will decide whether any changes are made to the charter, if any, at least to the extent that those changes are proposed in the form of a referendum on the 2018 ballot, where the public again will have a voice.
A majority of council members made clear that they saw no reason for a comprehensive charter review, noting that they have not detected any sort of clamor for such a review. None of the several council meetings at which the charter was debated drew audiences any larger than tonight’s, and most drew less (at least for that particular subject on the council’s agenda).
The current charter lays out a process that would have led to the appointment, by the council, of an independent charter review commission. The council chose not to take that route, opting instead for the current arrangement. Whether the council is following its own charter’s direction in that regard is up for interpretation. “I’ve given you my own interpretation,” Bill Reischmann, the city’s attorney, said at tonight’s meeting. “Some people disagree.”
He was responding to one of the evening’s few comments, and its most forceful, from Kimble Medley, a former candidate for supervisor of elections who’s frequently been involved in local government issues. She spoke at the beginning and the end of the meeting, calling the workshops a “put on” that’ll lead nowhere, however informative. Reischmann countered the way he has at meetings previously, by lending the process his own interpretation of law to the extent that it allows for this alternate way of reviewing the charter. Medley also questioned the three-minute time limits imposed on the public, especially in contrast with the open-ended allowance for public officials at the meeting. If an independent review panel had been appointed, she said, public input would have been less restricted.
In the few comments that were spoken, one other person echoed Medley, calling the process “a sham,” but another, Norm Mugford, a long-time member of the city’s Code Enforcement board, said he didn’t think the charter should be changed. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said, though he did propose clarifying qualification and residency requirements of prospective candidates for office: he’d been passed over for an appointment to the council two years ago, for a candidate who he says was tied more to Jacksonville than to Palm Coast.
Other than Medley’s comments, a couple of general questions from Jack Carrell, who attends every council meeting and workshop, and a suggestion from Greg Feldman, also a former candidate for local office, that was mostly it for public comment: there were none that actually made any substantive proposals either about the charter or about the adopted process (disputing it aside). In essence, what public participation there was replayed earlier debates at the council.
With the opening session of public comment ended, Crotty returned to what she had done at the top of the meeting: providing a civics lesson about charters in general and about Palm Coast’s charter specifically: every one of Florida’s 412 cities has a charter, by law, the Legislature ultimately approves the city charter, the document should be a more general blueprint, constitution-like, on how to run the city rather than a detailed how-to that’s better dealt with through ordinances, and so on. Also: it should be lucid and consistent. “Middle school students need to be able to read your charter and know what it’s about,” Crotty said.
She then got into a few more details by discussing the existing charter section by section, with this meeting devoted to the first five: that part of the discussion was more glaze-inviting than engaging, with Crotty making the odd suggestion about how to improve certain sections, at least regarding its form, if not quite its substance. But Crotty got a few ears perked up when she noted that some cities give their council investigatory powers through their charter, and that the Palm Coast council could do so as well if it so chose. The council could then investigate allegations of misconduct in the city administration’s ranks, with subpoena power and the power to mete out penalties. Feldman urged against that approach.
The meeting was attended by council members Bob Cuff, Nick Klufas, Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley. “While they are here,” Crotty said of the council members, “they are here mainly here as observers.” They spoke little. Landon, the city manager, was on his way out when he stopped cold the moment he heard Nobile ask a question (Landon and Nobile do not see eye to eye, and much of Nobile’s thrust for a charter review has Landon in its sights: Nobile wants more council members to have more say in the day to day business of the city.) Nobile wanted to know when he would get to make his own recommendations for charter changes (November) and what steps could be taken to resolve the matter of interpretation about how to conduct a charter review.
The city also makes written comments part of the process, through electronic submissions by email ([email protected]) or at the city’s website.
This is merely a cover up for the council to be able to say WE held a review. Look send me a copy of the CHARTER, or link, let me review it. The fact is, being here in PC not by choice, I have seen the Governing bodies continue to implement while the residents, on ther side, say NO we dont want this. Too many occassions to get into here. I would not attend because admittedly so I have no tact and in 3 minutes would let you all know exactly how I feel under no uncertain terms. I resign myself of this Civic obligation due to the fact that I do not intend to stay in the area when certain events in life take place. Good luck and be grateful I , and others like me, grin and bare your incompetence. Be reminded it will not continue indefinitely.
Incredibly BAD TIMING! Do our local politicians not “understand” that many of their constituents are still reeling and dealing with the damages caused by hurricane Irma? This review COULD and SHOULD have been rescheduled! This just shows how completely “out of touch” they are!
Sw, you are so right! This whole process is nothing but “lip service” by a bunch of self serving politicians. . . just a mirror image of the disconnect in Washington!
Members of City Council and City Clerk:
Last night, I was in attendance for the first of four planned meetings addressing the charter review for the City of Palm Coast. Council and staff members in attendance were encouraged by Ms. Crotty to post public comments regarding ideas as well as the process.
According to Council’s section of the City’s website, “citizen participation” is encouraged throughout the current process. The procedures, as outlined, include: sending ideas/thoughts to the city at a designated email address, attending the planned workshops, attending Council workshops, and then voting on proposed amendments, “if any are proposed during the 2018 election cycle”. Continuing with this process, we learn it is the “City Council that will consider whether any changes to the charter should be proposed to the voters”. A facilitator, Marilyn Crotty, has been hired by City Council to conduct the planned workshops and provide Council with a summary on Nov. 28, 2017. Thereafter, Council will hold meetings from December through February to finalize formal action, if any.
I prepared well-researched remarks for last night’s meeting. Public comments were limited to (2) 3 minute opportunities; hardly ample time to discuss our charter, “comparable to the Constitution of the United States or a state’s constitution”. In fact, during last night’s meeting, Ms. Crotty provided our state has currently empaneled “a body” to review our state constitution. Likewise, we learned the cities of Tallahassee and Cocoa Beach, through citizens appointed to charter review committees, changed their charter to address campaign finance and have limited contributions for municipal candidates. Our own city attorney, a charter officer, participated in a charter review committee for the City of Winter Springs; and, yet, he, along with our other charter officer, seek to deny the citizens of Palm Coast that same opportunity and are determined to have City Council control the entire process. Before addressing the obvious question, allow me to present the remarks prepared for last night’s meeting:
According to the City’s website, the current process is advertised and promoted as a Charter Review. Details are listed on the City Council section, with its own tab labeled, “Charter Review”. Words matter.
What is a City Charter? As provided by the City, “A municipal charter… is comparable to the Constitution of the United States or a state’s constitution. The charter is, therefore, the most important legal document of any city”.
According to a 5/31/17 FlaglerLive article, “It’s a brief, 22-page document that sets out how the city is to govern itself, leaving the details to ordinances”.
The City Council’s page provides, “The Palm Coast City charter was approved by the Florida Legislature”. In fact, in order to become a City, a charter had to be drawn and subsequently approved by the Florida Legislature.
The Charter Review process on the website and adopted by City Council is extremely different than that explained by six simple sentences of Section 10, sub section 2 of our own Charter. This is the first issue that must be addressed.
According to Marilyn Crotty, the intermediary, hired by the Council, a city charter “should be compact, simple, clear, readable, and understandable to the lay citizen”. I agree. My background is that of an insurance underwriter and I know from experience insurance policies are to be written such that sixth graders are able to read and comprehend. So, this lay citizen read Section 10 – General Provisions of our Charter.
There are 5 separate sections: Charter Amendment, Charter Review, Initiative and Referendum, Adjustments of Districts, and Standards of Conduct.
Subsection 2 – Charter Review has 2 parenthetical sections, Schedule and Charter Review Committee. Six sentences outline the process for a Charter Review.
The Charter shall be reviewed no sooner than 10 years after the creation of the City…, and thereafter it may be reviewed every ten years. (As FlaglerLive reported in 5/17, the charter has been amended but a full review has never been completed. Many interpret the mandatory “shall be reviewed” as a review should have been done in 2009; but, the language is clear; it says no sooner than 10 years. Eighteen years is not any sooner than 10 years. I would argue the first compulsory review should follow our Charter.
The next 5 sentences outline how a 5 member Charter Review committee “shall be appointed” by city council members and the mayor, an appointee from each district and an appointee at large. The Council shall fund the committee. The committee shall be appointed one year before the next scheduled general election, finish its work, and make presentations no later than 60 days before the general election. City Council shall hold at least 2 public hearings on the proposed changes before placing the proposed changes on the general election ballot.
Seems clear to me; but, Ms. Crotty said, “One of the reasons that it’s a good time for you to look at your charter is because your charter is not clear on how you go about that process”. (FlaglerLive 8/9/17).
So, I questioned this. I was told Florida Statutes, Chapter 166, section 031 governs this process and gives the Council the authority to change the charter review process. I humbly disagree. I read F.S. 166.031. Its title is Charter Amendments, not Charter Review. Section 10, subsection 1, rightfully references Chapter 166 as the Municipal Home Rule Powers Act is important for cities; however, as F.S. 166.031(3) notes, “A municipality may amend its charter pursuant to this section notwithstanding any charter provisions to the contrary. This section shall be supplemental to the provisions of all other laws relating to the amendment of municipal charters and is not intended to diminish any substantive or procedural power vested in any municipality by present law”. Yes, City Council can amend, by ordinance, or elector(s) may by petition, offer proposed amendments, such as was done with the change in our election process, moving to even-numbered years; but, this is not a Charter Review. Section 10 (2)(a)(b) is contrary. It spells out, in layman’s terms, how the Charter Review is to proceed.
I went further. Attorney General Opinion, AGO 2003-36, was written to address question by a Charter Review Committee for the City of Hallendale Beach. The committee asked if the city charter could be amended so that the city council could amend without referendums, except in certain circumstances defined by F.S. 166.021(4). The answer was “No”. Yet, another statute provides clarity as far as Charter Amendments are concerned; but, neither reference Charter Review.
Ms. Crotty, as reported by FlaglerLive (8/9/17), first met Attorney Reischmann, a charter officer according to Section 6 of our Charter, while he was a member of a citizen panel working on the charter for the City of Winter Springs. According to the article, Reischmann has parroted Landon’s position, another charter officer, that the council, not an independent body [not the people], maintain control of the review and the process. Winter Springs does not and did not conduct its charter review in the manner before us. Why are we?
Money. Maintain the status quo. Control.
Offering an amendment through the Charter Amendment process is essentially the council identifying a change and putting the proposed change on the ballot. By the time it gets to the ballot, little education has occurred and it becomes like those judges who appear on the ballot – retain yes or no?
The referendum initiative method requires citizens to mobilize, gather petition signatures, have it presented to council and contingent upon council’s action, place it on the ballot. At least 10% of registered voters, ranging from 7,000 to 8,000, required signatures. We already see difficulties in mobilizing voters to vote. The referendum process requires work that sadly many choose to not to do.
The Charter Review, spelled out in our charter, is a citizen panel, much like the one Mr. Reischmann joined in Winter Springs. I would argue it is a “substantive or procedural power vested” in the City of Palm Coast, specifically its citizens. By adopting the current process, the people are circumvented and neutralized. City Council offers reasons as to why the current process was chosen and the prescribed process was cast aside:
• There is not a ground swell or clamoring for the review
• The elected body is exposed to more information than the everyday resident.
• The county’s experience proved to be a “huge learning experience” for that committee and after 6 months they couldn’t move forward.
• Tremendous amounts of resources were required to educate the lay people
• Essentially, it’s complicated.
Please note Section 10(2)(a)(b) does not require any of the above for the first mandatory Charter Review to occur.
The county process was NOT a charter view. That committee was tasked with determining if a Charter form of government would work in Flagler. They concluded it would not.
The City Council and the Charter Officers looked at the Charter, specifically Section 10(2)(a)(b) and decided to change it. And they have done this without placing this proposed change on the ballot for a vote by its electors. Why? Because the outcome sought has already been written, “There’s not that much in it that needs to be changed, tweaked, adjusted, or added”, stated Marilyn Crotty in an August 10, 2017 Daytona Beach News Journal article penned by Matt Bruce. A conclusion has been reached before the first meeting.
This current process satisfies being able to check the box and say, we did it. We had the Charter Review. We can look our constituents in the eye and say we tried, there wasn’t any excitement, and the changes offered simple aren’t feasible. But that’s wrong.
John Brady’s letter of June 5, 2017 captures the essence of the current process, “the idea of citizens having the accumulated knowledge of the workings of municipal government” is basically absurd. But he goes on to make a point with which I concur, a lack of understanding of the “way things have always been done”, or the good ole’ boys’ system, is an asset, not a detriment as it invites citizens to apply critical thinking skills and ask why, why not, and what if. Mr. Brady offers several suggestions. I have recommendations, too; yet, I fear the current process opens the door to litigation. Still, sadly in the end, our ideas will not get past the automatic 3 No votes currently on council.
We are being told to sit down. Be quiet. Council knows best. This is an Eminence Front. It’s the fox guarding the hen house. Sadly, taxpayers are paying for this and “We the People” have been subjugated to hens.
I urge City Council to request an opinion from the Attorney General to reconcile the current charter review process with that outlined in our Charter and approved by the Florida Legislature.
Nicholas Klufas says
The Council agreed to four meetings (including last night), so you absolutely should attend when you’re able to do so. There are additional details here: https://www.palmcoastgov.com/council/charter
Flaglerlive made note of this in the opening sentence of the article, “… Palm Coast government’s first of four public charter-review workshop at Matanzas High School early this evening…”
Plain old malarkey
With all due respect Mr. Klufas, (2) 3 minute spots is not ample. Further, with council members and staff attending, it is restrictive and prohibits open debate as thoughts and ideas are immediately quelled. Rather than a council-manager form of government, we have a manager-council as evidenced by the current process, which changed the charter without a vote.
Your research and input here is absolutely admirable! And you are quite correct. . . 3 minutes is certainly not enough time for an “in depth” presentation.
Jack Howell says
The sad thing about the Charter Review is that it does not make a difference what we citizens say. The City Council or should I say Jim Landon is going to do what he wants and get away with it. Sorry, I don’t see our current City Council having the intestinal fortitude to challenge Lando. So waste my time and effort to attend these meetings?
enjoy this says
I think the public is worth more floor time, otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Look, just tell us “we already wrote the charter people, go home, we’re going through motions here tonight because we have to.” We all know that’s what’s occurring here. Typical government – stand up and shout out loud how you “lead the way”. Stand up and say you did a job so nice, be so proud of me, here’s what I did for you – just know you did it all for yourself. Until public can actually comment (not the few besties in the room), you earn no trust. As far as I’m concerned, you who hold the public down, are the real issue. I bet a charter review will benefit you, those who suppress the public, more so than me. Salaries increase, regulations drop, and the moons that orbit your heads get even bigger. Hope you enjoy being the center of the, eh your, small universe!
john dolan says
The City Council can’t handle the truth and don’t care about the facts. Go back and check the things you didn’t think were important.
Review should be done by a citizen’s committee!
There are definately some areas that need attention in the original charter. A review is indeed in order. If now is not the appropriate time then reschedule asap, but the review must happen. Maybe some are trying to get the review pushed back until after the imminent departure of Jim Landon.