The Charter Review Commission voted 8-3 to forward three ballot items to the Board of County Commissioners during their third and final meeting, May 31. The Board of County Commissioners plans to place these items on their June 14 agenda.
In accordance with the Florida charter form of government, if the Board of County Commissioners adopts a resolution to move the proposals forward, then they can direct the Supervisor of Elections to place these items on the ballot for the November general election, Clay County Public Information Officer Annaleasa Winter said.
If adopted, the charter’s suggestion would put three items on the ballot for voters in November; the vote to give county commissioners a salary increase, to end term limits for constitutional officeholders and the revision to the length of time between appointed Charter Review Commission members.
The charter unanimously voted on the third item regarding revision to the appointment time, but three members dissented on the other two items.
David Theus, a small business consultant and former 2020 congressional candidate in Florida’s 3rd district, was appointed to the Charter Review Commission by Clay County Commissioner Mike Cella. Theus is one of three charter members who represent Clay County District 1.
Theus, Christine Backscheider and Connie Schoenung each opposed putting a Board of County Commissioners pay raise and term limits on the November ballot.
“The reason I dissented the pay raise is that we tied it to the CPI (consumer price index), which is an increase, each year, to the commissioner’s pay,” he said.
While some lobbied that the pay increase would be a 4 to 5 percent increase, Theus said that just for this year the percentage is nearing 8 percent. A CPI-based increase is locking in an ever-increasing government, he said.
Theus also made note that voters previously voted on the commissioner’s salary to be held at $37,500 and if the voters want that number, it should be respected, he said.
“A commissioner’s pay is billed as a part-time job and several commissioners knew the salary when they ran for office and seemed to be okay with it,” Theus said. “What this would do is guarantee a pay increase for each year they remain on the board.”
Theus said if you believe that your taxpayer dollars should be increased for councilmen’s pay, then you vote yes. If you believe in less government and less burden to the taxpayer, then you vote no, he said.
The second item that may end up on the ballot is removing term limits for elected constitutional officers. Officeholders are currently allotted three, four-year terms. The Charter Review Commission is suggesting the removal of term limits, allowing officeholders to remain in their position for more than 12 years.
In the term limit proposal, the offices of sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector, clerk of the circuit court, and supervisor of elections would be affected.
Theus’ reason for dissenting on this item is because he believes current officeholders have an advantage because their names and/or pictures are on each official letter the taxpayer receives.
For example, he said, when someone renews their license, they make a payment to and receive a letter from the county tax collector. Or, if someone opens a local magazine, they might see an ad for who the county sheriff is.
“I hate the word ‘fair’ being used in politics,” he said. “But I believe in a local race like this, it is an unfair advantage for the sitting incumbent to get reelected because he or she is getting a pseudo-campaign each time someone in the county receives an official document.”
The item Theus, and all other charter review members, agreed upon is the appointment time for the Charter Review Commission.
“By rule, it is up for review every four years,” Theus said. “But we had a lot of discussion about whether it could be longer to allow us to do the job better and we all agreed that eight years would be enough.”
Theus explained that even with a longer period of time for review members to serve, citizens have three different ways to amend the charter.
Citizens have the option to go to the Board of County Commissioners to state changes they want to make, they can petition the charter every four years or they can take the “citizens initiative” route.
Citizens initiative, according to Florida law, requires a petition to amend a city charter to have signatures of 10 percent of the registered electors as of the last preceding municipal general election. A reasonable construction of the statute is that signatures are valid for two years, Attorney General Robert Butterworth wrote in an email inquiring about the process.
“I think the argument from the citizens on this item is going to be that we are taking the rights to change the charter away from them,” Theus said. “But there are two other ways to do it outside of the ballot.”
County Attorney Courtney Grimm explained to the commission what the next steps are procedurally, according to the May 31 agenda minutes.
Since the commission has approved the three matters for the ballot and the final report, staff will take those to the June 14 Board of County Commissioners meeting. They will be presented with a resolution. They will acknowledge receipt of the report and then take that and direct the Supervisor of Elections to place those proposed charter amendments on the 2022 general election ballot. The next general election is Nov. 8, 2022.