Holmes Beach charter review covers mayor vacancy

Should the city retain its weak-mayor form of government and add a city manager?

The devil may be in the details of the government’s charter.

If attention to detail were ever in question with the Holmes Beach Charter Review Committee, all concerns can be put to rest.

The committee resumed its work March 12, reviewing the suggested edits flagged during its initial review. Minor and significant edits were painstakingly scrutinized in the more than three-hour meeting.

Minor edits included comma placements and word choice and order, where significant edits included rewrites of officer sections and procedures for elections and recalls.

Elections and recalls focused on the procedures for replacing the mayor in the event of a vacancy, which led to discussion about adding a city manager to the charter.

“I looked into island communities similar to ours and Anna Maria is the only one who really looked into it. And they changed theirs because of the problems they had,” committee member Pam Leckie said. “None of the coastal villages, towns or cities address it anymore than we do.”

The current procedure in the charter in the event of a mayoral vacancy is for the commission chair to assume the post. The chair then would be filled by the vice-chair and the vacant commission seat would be filled by appointment by the remaining members. Those in the newly filled positions hold them until the next general election.

“That could be rife with some difficulties. What could we do to resolve it in a more quickly and targeted way?” asked committee chair Bob Johnson.

Johnson proposed three options:

• Leave the charter as it is.

• Change the charter to require a special election to fill the vacancy.

• Grant the city commission the ability to appoint a mayor from a pool of applicants.

“I think in many cases you’re going to end up with a situation like in Anna Maria, where you have someone who doesn’t want to be mayor,” said Mayor Carmel Monti, who spoke in favor of a special election. The mayor is not a member of the review committee and also does not vote with the city commissioners. He will have no say in whether the committee’s recommendations go on the ballot in November.

Leckie felt the city commission chairperson would be the most appropriate choice to become the mayor because the chair would be the most familiar with the operations of city hall.

But shifting seats as outlined in the charter could be problematic, said Johnson. The commission chair turned mayor would get a boost in pay along with added responsibilities — managing the city staff. However, the new mayor would lose his or her vote on the commission.


Mayor proposes major change

As the committee discussed pros, cons and reasons someone may or may not want to become mayor “without signing up for the job,” Monti again voiced his opinion.

“There’s an onus of responsibility that’s not a part-time job and, frankly, I think we’re going to end up with the same problem Anna Maria is having. Who would want to step up to this role?” Monti asked. “The reason I may run or not run is strictly economical. At $12,000 a year, I’m the lowest-paid employee. Is that what we want, or do we want a professional?”

The conversation abruptly changed from filling a mayoral vacancy to adding a city manager to the charter.

City attorney Patricia Petruff cited a general example of cities adding city managers to their charters and shifting the role of the mayor to a less involved position.

“It’s been discussed before, but not seriously because to hire someone who’s a competent city manager would require a six-figure salary, I would assume,” said Petruff.

“I think it’s time we really discuss this seriously,” said Leckie. “I agree with the mayor that things are so complex now and we really need someone who knows what they’re doing.”

But Johnson redirected the conversation back to the issue of vacancies.

“It’s another discussion about form of government and city managers, and it’s a very involved discussion. If it’s going to be discussed, I think it should be done completely and it should be done based on facts and not on opinions and wishes,” said Johnson.

Johnson reminded the committee and the mayor about the timeline for proposed changes to the charter. The charter is reviewed every five years, and proposed changes need to be presented to the commission in time to make it onto the November ballot.

The discussion of a city manager was added to the March 26 meeting agenda.

The committee agreed the option of a special election to fill a mayoral vacancy should be a proposed change.

City clerk Stacey Johnson estimated such an election would cost about $6,000 and would take at least two months to arrange.

“My feeling about government is to allow the people as much involvement as possible,” said Johnson.

The next charter review meeting will be in the evening in order for residents to attend who work during the day, when the committee has routinely met. It will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.


Town meeting on charter

The Holmes Beach Charter Review committee plans to discuss significant issues at its March 19 meeting.

Committee chair Bob Johnson is encouraging citizens to attend and weigh in on the changes considered to the city charter — often considered the bible for government entities.

The committee will discuss limiting terms and term lengths for the mayor and commissioners, as well as height and density requirements and other controls for buildings.

The committee will meet 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at city hall, 5801Marina Drive.

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