Fish or cut bait?
Members of the Municipal Association of Pasco County, which represents the six cities in Pasco, want a final decision on whether the county should alter its form of government.
They likely will get their wish on Aug. 24 when the county’s appointed charter review panel has scheduled a vote on the matter. A previously scheduled vote on Aug. 10 was postponed until the charter panel could hear from Pasco’s legislative delegation.
State Representatives Richard Corcoran and Amanda Murphy, and State Senators John Legg and Wilton Simpson have confirmed they will attend the Aug. 24 meeting which will begin at 1 p.m., in the first floor board room, at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey.
Pasco’s cities have expressed opposition to a charter.
“We are very concerned at the implications a charter would have on our cities,” said Lance Smith, a Zephyrhills’ city councilman. He and St. Leo Mayor Pro Tem James Hallett addressed panel members at their Aug. 10 meeting in Dade City.
Among issues of concern, according to Smith, would be whether cities would retain control over establishing special tax districts, known as community redevelopment areas.
“We need this decision one way or another,” he said. “Fish or cut bait.”
Zephyrhills is one of six cities in the municipal association. Others are Dade City, New Port Richey, Port Richey, St. Leo and San Antonio.
The municipal association members met recently and approved a resolution opposing charter government.
The resolution urges panel members “to reconsider this…effort, and to provide for a more balanced and transparent review of our county government in the future.”
There also is concern that a charter “would infringe on the rights and duties of municipal elected officials and the citizens they represent,” according to the resolution.
Pasco County currently is governed under home rule with five districts, each with a representative elected by countywide vote.
Twenty of the state’s 67 counties operate with charters, including Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Commissioners appointed the 15-member panel in May after Corcoran lobbied them earlier in the year to establish a charter commission.
However, the Pasco commissioners’ nonbinding panel has the option of approving or rejecting a charter-style government.
In contrast, state law requires that a charter commission, once formed, must produce a charter that voters would accept or reject.
An activist group, the Pasco County Citizens Charter Coalition, announced in June that it would partner with Corcoran in a petition campaign to secure a required 45,000 signatures needed to establish such a commission.
Corcoran has said in the past that charters give more power to residents.
“That’s sort of the idea,” said panel member, Randy Maggard. “The people have more say.”
Maggard said the panel should explore specific elements of charters, such as single-member districts and term limits, before shutting the door on a charter.
“We’re going to make a decision without discussing these other things?” he said. “Everybody has made their minds up?”
If the panel votes on Aug. 24 not to pursue a charter, then the panel can disband. It would take 10 votes to support a charter, but if that is the decision then, members would have to buckle down for months of additional study and work.
They would have to produce a document detailing the operations of government including possible adoption of single-member districts, term limits, a recall process, an elected county administrator or elected county mayor. Pasco voters would approve or reject the panel’s recommendation in the November 2016 election.
Regardless of the panel’s decision, the grassroots charter coalition can move forward on its own to seek to establish the desired charter commission.
Residents who spoke during public comment at the Aug. 10 meeting were skeptical of a charter.
“Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should,” said Calvin Branche, a commissioner with the Metropolitan Planning Organization. “I think it’s a very wrong way to approach the citizens about this thing.”
Branche told panel members he had attended some meetings of the charter coalition group, and doubted that it would get the required petition signatures.
No one from the charter coalition spoke during public comment.
Dade City resident Judy Geiger worried that a charter with single-member districts would work against east Pasco, which has fewer residents than the more developed west Pasco.
“I believe the current government works very well,” she said “To spend more time on a charter I think would be a waste.”
Published August 19, 2015