The Alachua Charter Amendments – YES or NO?

On April 14th Alachua voters will be voting on eight amendments to the City Charter. A Sample Ballot and the proposed Charter Amendments can be found on the City of Alachua website (click HERE).

I will comment on the merits of the Charter Amendments, but first let’s take a look at the charter review process from which these amendments originated.

The City Charter was adopted in 1905 and amended in 1989. A Charter Review process has been long overdue, but unfortunately the Charter Amendments appearing on the April 14th ballot did not result from a serious and diligent effort to review the Charter and recommend needed amendments. These Charter Amendments were drafted by city staff under direction of the city attorney and the city manager, and a quickly-assembled Charter Review Board met four times in three weeks to fast-track their approval, with minimal input by the City Commission or the public. As we vote on these amendments, we should reflect on how they were developed.

On December 1, 2008 the City Commission established the terms of office and membership of the Charter Review Board. Although seven positions were advertised, on January 12, 2009 the City Commission appointed four members to the Charter Review Board, and the Board began meeting.

The Charter Review Board quickly held three meetings in January 2009, on the 15th, 20th and 27th. The Board held its fourth and final meeting on February 3rd, and the City Commission approved an ordinance incorporating the eight Charter Amendments upon second public hearing on February 23rd.

This process for amending the City Charter is highly objectionable and I’m tempted to “just say NO” to all the amendments due to the fast-tracked rubber-stamp manner by which they were adopted. I and others raised this concern at the public meetings where these Charter Amendments were being approved.

In response, the city manager stated that it was the City’s intention to convene a full seven-member Charter Review Board after the April 14th election and have the Board conduct a more diligent and comprehensive charter review process. I look forward to participating in that process.

Meanwhile, Alachua voters are asked to vote “YES” or “NO” on these eight Charter Amendments.

MY COMMENTS  on the Charter Amendments:

I strongly object to the process by which these amendments were brought forward to the public. The Charter Review Board was obviously created to act very quickly on a predetermined set of amendments that serve the narrow agenda of the city manager and certain individuals at City Hall. These amendments were fast tracked and rubber stamped in order to get them on the ballot for this election. That alone justifies a NO vote on all the amendments.

If we ignore the flawed charter review process and consider these Charter Amendments on their merits, there are two that stand out as the worst examples of what could easily be perceived as self-serving attempts to tailor the City Charter to the interests and ambitions of specific individuals.

VOTE NO ON AMENDMENTS 2 and 4.

The High Springs Herald published an editorial on April 10 titled Our views on Alachua’s charter amendments” in which the Herald offers good reasons to vote NO on Amendments 2 and 4.  I agree with the Herald’s view on these amendments and hope they will be soundly defeated by Alachua voters.

The rest of the amendments are more benign, but I can’t enthusiastically endorse a YES vote on any of them due to the hasty manner in which they were adopted.  I don’t have a problem with the idea of electing our mayor by popular vote, and I may even be tempted to vote YES on #1. I look forward to a comprehensive charter review process in 2009, with a full 7-member Charter Review Board.

I invite Alachua voters to share your views with me regarding the Charter Amendments on the April 14 ballot.

Michael Canney

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