Charter panel’s first meeting sparks controversy

Sparks flew at the first meeting of a charter review panel that could recommend major changes in how the county operates.

The meeting was called to take care of housekeeping chores, such as by-laws and scheduling decisions, but it got underway with a jolt.

Clay Colson interrupted Pasco County Chairman Ted Schrader’s introductions to declare a “point of order” and challenge the panel’s right to meet.

Colson argued that the May 11 meeting date failed to satisfy a 30-day deadline set by county commissioners when they approved the panel and appointed its members.

Schrader threatened to have a deputy sheriff remove anyone disrupting the meeting. And Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the date was chosen by consensus among panel members. He added that a court order would be needed to shut down the meeting.

Former Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox will lead the charter panel and business owner Randy Maggard will serve as vice-chairman.

“I don’t personally believe county government is broken,” Cox said. “Can we make it better? That is my hope.”

Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Colson said, “I don’t feel represented by a single one of you. None of you has my best interests at heart.”

Colson also told the panel he and others plan to gather the required signatures to establish a charter commission that would include members that reflect Pasco’s diversity.

Since its appointment in April, the panel has come under criticism because all 15 members are white, and only one panel member is a woman. There are five alternates.

Pasco’s five commissioners each made two appointments. The five members of Pasco County’s legislative delegation rounded out the panel, with one appointment each.

Under state law, either a majority of commissioners or a petition signed by 15 percent of the county’s registered voters – about 45,000 signatures – can create a charter commission. Once a commission is created, it must complete a charter that Pasco voters would approve or reject.

However, the Pasco commission created a panel, rather than a commission, to allow an option of recommending no change to Pasco’s government. If a charter were recommended, a vote likely would be scheduled in 2016.

The panel will consider issues such as whether the county should have single-member districts, whether commissioners should have term limits and whether the administrator should be appointed or there should be an elected administrator or mayor.

Panel members briefly introduced themselves and explained why they want to serve.

Real estate broker Patti Spoeth, an alternate, said she wanted only to do “what is best for our county.”

Attorney Robert Eckard said, “If there is a better way to do government, I think it behooves us to look at that.”

Panel members also adopted by-laws and agreed to broadcast future meetings on Pasco TV.

The next meeting will be June 8 with other meetings to follow on the second and fourth Mondays of each month for approximately 18 months.

During public comment, residents expressed concerns and displeasure with the panel.

Published May 20, 2015

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