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AM charter committee explores the ‘extraordinary’

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

The Anna Maria Charter Review Committee got back to work in the new year with a discussion Jan. 2 of extraordinary situations the city could face in the future.

Member Jim Bennington said after all that’s happened in the past two years, discussing the extraordinary is needed. He was referring to the 2009 recall election of a city commissioner and the Nov. 6, 2012, election, when, lacking a candidate for mayor, the commission appointed a mayor from its five-member board and then became split on the appointment of a commissioner to fill the fifth seat.

Committee chair Howard Payne said, “Considering how long I’ve lived here,” nothing the city commission does would surprise him.

One extraordinary circumstance would be if all five commissioners were “unable or unwilling to serve,” said member Tom Breiter. That would leave five seats open on the commission.

Breiter proposed that in such an event, the governor should appoint five people to the commission and their first order of business would be to hold a special election for all vacant seats, with the top five vote-getters taking office.

Committee members agreed with the recommendation, but adviser Tom Aposporos said what’s more likely to happen is that the commission would have only one or two members, not enough for a quorum.

Payne, however, said jokingly that he knew enough “ornery people” in Anna Maria who might just walk off a commission en mass if they were unhappy.

City attorney Jim Dye said the commission must have three members to conduct business, otherwise, it can’t really hold a meeting or pass ordinances or resolutions. He said in such an event, the city would look to the governor to appoint a commissioner to make a quorum. The three commissioners might then appoint two people to fill the remaining vacancies until the next election cycle, or the city could hold a special election for the two seats. The governor might also appoint three people as interim commissioners until the next election cycle.

“You can’t run the city with only two people” on the commission, Dye said.

Breiter suggested two commissioners might appoint a third commissioner, but Dye pointed out that a commission with just two members is not a quorum and has no charter authority to appoint a third member, unless the people of Anna Maria want to allow that in a charter revision.

Breiter was concerned that on a three-member commission, two pro-development commissioners could pass legislation against the vote of the third commissioner.

Aposporos noted that the charter requires a “majority vote of commissioners,” meaning three “yes” votes to pass an ordinance, approve a site plan or resolution. All three would have to vote “yes” or “no” for an issue to pass or fail.

Breiter said he would write a recommendation on what should be in the charter in the event there is less than a majority of commissioners and bring it to the next meeting for discussion.

Dye said it’s a matter of policy if the city wants to involve the governor in appointing a commissioner, but the county should be removed from consideration. He said asking the governor to appoint a commissioner is the “usual process,” when a charter does not have a method for replacing a commissioner who leaves office before completion of his or her term.

Aposporos cited the recent appointment of a Sarasota County commissioner by the governor as precedent for gubernatorial power.

Dye said he would research the governor’s power to appoint local officials and report at the next meeting.

The committee also dealt with the removal of the commission chair.

Bennington recommended that it take four commissioners to remove the chair, and the vice chair would then take the position. The former chair would remain a commissioner. Payne liked the recommendation, but said to “put it on the back burner for now.”

Breiter noted all the discussion issues were about “extreme circumstances,” but they need to be addressed in the charter.

Dye said the issues “sound like a John D. McDonald novel,” but they need to be discussed.

The committee will next meet at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan 16, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

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