ManaSota cities fight for home rule in Tallahassee

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Florida League of Cities ambassador Carol Westmoreland speaks March 9 during a ManaSota League of Cities meeting in the chambers at Longboat Key Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road, Longboat Key. Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Searon and service dog Reece are seated in the gallery. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The 2017 legislative session has begun in Tallahassee and home rule is at risk, according to the ManaSota League of Cities.

At their March 9 meeting, MSLC members discussed their approach for the legislative session, which began March 7.

The MSLC operates under the Florida League of Cities and comprises nine members, each representing a municipality in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Members of the MSLC meet bimonthly to discuss issues affecting the cities.

Their primary goal is to support and protect home rule — the power of local governments to make legislative decisions.

Two bills have been filed — House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 1158 — that would reduce the ability of local governments to regulate business, including vacation rentals.

Palmetto Mayor Brian Williams, the MSLC president, motioned for a resolution urging the Legislature oppose HB 17 and SB 1158. The motion passed unanimously.

Additionally, House Bill 13 would severely restrict the ability of community redevelopment agencies to conduct agency business and create a process by which all CRAs in Florida would be terminated, according to the bill.

Florida League of Cities ambassador Carol Westmoreland, a lobbyist for 18 years, addressed the regional board March 9.

“Tallahassee is the home of the Florida League of Cities and we employ lobbyists that are your representatives and ambassadors that are your links,” she said.

Bradenton Councilman Patrick Roff asked Westmoreland why the Legislature would want to eliminate CRAs.

“What is their purpose?” Roff asked. “Do they like slum and blight?”

Cities that can prove blight exists can create a CRA and are allocated incremental tax dollars from the county to enhance the area.

Bradenton Beach designated its downtown historic district as a CRA in 1992.

Westmoreland said a lot of legislators don’t understand CRAs.

“We try to educate them,” she said.

The MSLC agreed that Williams would write and sign a similar resolution urging lawmakers to oppose HB 13.

The motion passed with a unanimous vote.

Westmoreland said it is important for members of the league and their constituents to advocate in any way they can.

“There is no bad advocacy,” she said. “Phone calls are always best, followed by emails, and resolutions show the Legislature that a group of people is in agreement on a matter.”

The next meeting of the MSLC will be at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, May 11, at Longboat Key Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road.

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