A virtual Homestead City Council met for a workshop on proposed City Charter changes Thursday July 16.
On June 23, Florida’s Governor had extended his March Executive Order 20-69 through August 1 (Order 20-150) - suspending the legal requirement of in-person quorums for local government meetings.
Homestead’s Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee was formed in January 2020 with Councilmembers each appointing one of the seven committee members.
“Our action tonight is limited to placing all or some of these issues on the ballot for voter consideration in November,” said Mayor Steve Losner. “My hope is to give due respect to the committee recommendations to be judged by voters. In effect, the Charter is the Constitution for our City. It can be amended only with voter approval.”
Ballot questions must be approved by July 31 and be submitted to the supervisor of elections in time for a November ballot.
“Each issue has to be written in a manner to stand on its own,” said Mayor Losner. “Able of implementation without adoption of other questions.”
The Mayor planned a meeting on the nine Charter committee recommendations by related topics. He opened discussion on Question #5 on filling Council vacancies and quickly ran into opposition.
“I’m concerned that we’ll be placing these items before voters in a generalized presidential election that’s going to have a large turnout of people showing up to vote that really have no interest in local issues,” said Councilmember Stephen Shelley.
“It’s going to require a lot more education of these voters on issues that are the foundation or our government,” said Shelley. “The other concern is COVID 19. Assuming it doesn’t turn around by the election, it will further affect turnout. I don’t support putting this on a national ballot. A different election would be more appropriate like a County or City election.”
Vice Mayor Patricia Fairclough-Staggers agreed. “We should place these issues on the ballot at a localized election so there’s a laser-like focus on local issues,” she said.
“There are so many pressing national issues I don’t want them to overshadow these very important issues here.
I feel more comfortable placing these on a local ballot where the voters are more engaged.”
Councilmember Roth asked the City Clerk who manages local elections what the expense was to the City if the ballot questions were not piggybacked on a state or national election. The Clerk said the County estimated the cost to Homestead to be $126,582.46.
“All charter questions elections have been held in November,” said Mayor Losner.
Councilmember Jenifer Bailey wanted further discussion on the ability to get information to the residents about the questions during the pandemic.
Councilmember Erica Avila said, “Like the Vice Mayor, I didn’t submit any charter questions in order not to influence the committee. My current priority is focusing attention on the budget.
I would prefer more time to dive into these items.
I agree with my colleagues that items are best addressed in a local election to give the Charter the specific attention that it deserves.”
Council then proceeded with a two and a half hour discussion of the issues under each Charter question. In addition to final nine questions, the Ad Hoc committee also recommended the committee remain in existence to address
additional issues and that Council formally adopt by Ordinance the selection procedure used to fill the most recent Council vacancy.
Finally, Mayor Losner asked City Attorney Matthew Pearl if he had notes of Council’s concerns. “If you’re moving forward with this, it should go question by question,” said Pearl.
“I have notes on four items for tweaks. With clarification from Council I’ll make some adjustments to the resolution, and you can finalize the resolution as amended next week at Council to review the final ballot questions and Charter language.”
Before votes on Questions were taken, Councilmember Shelley said, “I’m not in favor of moving this to the November ballot, so I will be voting no on every item. There’s no emergency that requires these to be rectified.”
Ballot Question #1, setting the mayoral term at four years instead of two, failed by a vote of three to four, Bailey, Fletcher and Losner voting yes, Roth, Shelley, Avila and Fairclough-Staggers voting no.
The City Attorney promised to tweak Ballot Question #2 based on Council’s discussion. Question #2 sets a twelve year consecutive term limit to holding office, individuals being eligible again after a two year break in service.
Before a vote could be taken, Council held a discussion on whether there was sufficient support to move any issue forward for the November 2020 ballot.
On motion of Councilmember Sean Fletcher, Council voted four to three to move forward, considering each question one by one. Voting yes were Fletcher, Bailey, Fairclough-Staggers and Losner; voting no were Avila, Shelley and Roth.
Question #2 then failed on a vote of three to four, Fletcher, Bailey and Losner voting yes, Shelley, Roth, Fairclough-Staggers and Avila voting no.
Question #3 requires office holders to give notice of intent to resign to run for Mayor or Council not less than 30 days prior to the qualifying period.
Attorney Pearl promised to furnish some clarifying language to bring back to the next Council meeting. This amended Question was approved four to three - Bailey, Fletcher, Fairclough-Staggers and Losner voting yes; Shelley, Roth and Avila voting no.
Question #4 sets how to calculate years of service for term limits to avoid late term resignations for seeking another office. The question passed four to three with the same coalition as the prior Question.
The Mayor asked if the next Question was being moved for the November ballot. The City Attorney said everything done tonight goes to Council next week for final approval. Councilmember Shelley wanted that clarification between being on the ballot and just coming before Council. Shelley said he supported several Charter issues whenever they were considered but objected to voting in November 2020.
Question #5 adopts the procedure for filling a Council vacancy. A special election is required for a remaining term of one year or more, a mayoral nomination with Council approval for a remaining term of less than one year. The Question was approved by a vote of four to two, Bailey, Shelley, Fletcher and Losner voting yes, Avila and Roth voting no.
Question #6 extends the Mayor’s time to nominate for a vacancy from 60 to 90 days. The Question was approved by a vote of four to two – Fletcher, Shelley, Bailey and Losner voting yes, Avila and Roth voting no.
Question #7 provided for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice Mayor. The Question failed by a vote of two to four – Fletch and Losner voting yes, Shelley, Bailey, Roth and Avila voting no.
Question #8 required names of all candidates to appear on the Vice Mayor ballot. This Question failed by a vote of one to five – Losner voting yes; Roth, Avila, Fletcher, Bailey and Shelley voting no.
Final Question #9 increased the membership of the Charter Review committee to seven members. Councilmember Roth moved to amend the Question so each Councilmember selects one committee member. That amendment passed unanimously. The amended Question passed by a vote of five to one – Fletcher, Roth, Bailey, Shelley and Losner voted yes, Avila voting no.
Because the Attorney ruled the Questions were moving to Council for final approval, Councilmembers Shelley and Roth changed their votes on Questions #3 and #4 to yes.
The City Attorney restated that Questions 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9 were moving forward; Questions 1, 2, 7, and 8 were rejected.