A discussion is underway that could lead to massive changes in Pasco County government.
State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, is advocating that Pasco voters be allowed the option to vote on whether the county should shift to a government governed by a charter.
Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano thinks that’s a horrible idea.
And, a majority of Pasco County commissioners said they want to know more about it before making any kind of commitment on the issue. After hearing from Corcoran and Fasano at their Jan. 13 meeting, they decided to hold off on taking any action until getting more information about the implications of a charter government.
Corcoran told commissioners that letting voters decide the way the county should be governed gives them greater control.
When voters have more control, the future speaker of the Florida House of Representatives said, “you wind up with a government that’s more transparent, more accountable and more efficient.
“This is just an opportunity for us to go down a path and see if there isn’t ways that we can create a government that’s even better than the existing government,” Corcoran said.
Under state law, either a majority of county commissioners or a petition signed by 15 percent of the county’s registered voters can create a charter commission. In Pasco, that would require more than 46,000 signatures.
Once a panel is formed, it has 18 months to complete a charter that Pasco voters would adopt or reject.
Fasano opposes the creation of a charter government.
“I’m not a fan of charter government,” Fasano said.
“There’s no question, when you have charter government, taxes will go up. No question, when you have a charter government, you will have another layer of government that people will have to get through,” Fasano said.
“Think about charter governments in other counties. All you have to do is look at Miami-Dade, what a mess. It’s layer of government after layer of government after layer of government. It is more taxes put upon the people of a community that is struggling already.”
Pasco County attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said there are 20 charter counties operating across the state’s 67 counties.
“If you look historically, across the state, most of the charters that got adopted were because of issues between the county commission and the constitutional officers or the county commission and the cities,” Steinsnyder said.
Charter government is not a panacea, but it can be a good vehicle for a government to form its own way, he said.
The charter dictates the shape that the government will take, he said.
“Government can be a much stronger form of government, if the charter so provides. It can be a much weaker form of government, if the charter so provides,” Steinsnyder said.
On one hand, it may solve some problems. On the other, it may create more problems than it solves, the county attorney said.
He also noted: “Once you turn that over to a charter review commission, you’re bound to put it on the ballot, and whatever the voters say, up or down, that’s it.”
A charter can include such things as single-member districts for county commissioners, terms limits, an elected county administrator or an elected county mayor and other changes to the composition of local government.
Corcoran said that Pasco’s legislative delegation wants local voters to decide how they are governed.
“How we govern right now, is dictated to us from Tallahassee. I’m saying that’s not good enough,” Corcoran said. “I think the system that we’re governed under should be dictated by Pasco residents and controlled by Pasco County voters. You do that, you’re going to have a more accountable system of government.”
He said he’s committed to raise money and collect signatures to create a charter commission.
But the delegation is open to a proposal by Commission Chairman Ted Schrader to form the charter commission — with commissioners choosing 10 of the members and delegation members choosing the other five.
Schrader said, “If it’s going to be done, it needs to be done in Pasco County.” But he added: “In no means am I strong proponent of establishing charter government. I don’t want anybody to get that idea.”
Instead, he said, he’d like more information on the issue.
“This is all new dialogue to me,” Schrader said.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey also wants to know more.
“Let’s just do a little homework before we start the next phase. I personally have always wondered, would we better off as a charter or worse off as a charter?” Starkey said.
She’d like to talk to some other counties and to have a workshop to discuss the issue.
Commissioners put the issue off until they can obtain more information and discuss how they’d like to proceed.
There was one point that opponents seemed to agree on, however.
Any charter issue on the ballot — needs to go on a presidential election ballot to ensure the highest degree possible for voter participation.
Published January 21, 2015