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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

McClash outlines county charter to Holmes Beach

In biblical times, Daniel went into the lion's den and came out a winner. The same might not be said for Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, who entered the Holmes Beach City Commission meeting Jan. 11 to give a presentation on the proposed county charter to a bunch of lions ready for their evening meal.

While McClash didn't get eaten up, he didn't seem to come out a winner. Commissioners and Mayor Carol Whitmore were clearly opposed to any charter that would take away home rule from Holmes Beach, or any other Manatee County municipality.

McClash, however, explained patiently that this is just a draft document, that the commission wanted input from the municipalities and a day-long discussion forum on the charter has been scheduled for Jan. 27.

"We have to have something to start with. Nothing is rubber-stamped, but we need to clean up issues" of growth management, he observed. The proposed county charter, if approved by voters, calls for a 14-member planning council that would establish a county land-use plan for adoption by the county commission. The planning council would be composed of the seven county commissioners, one school board member, and a representative from each of the six county municipalities.

The county plan would include provisions to establish maximum density and intensity of developments, building height limitations and concurrency standards, among other requirements. The municipalities would have to comply with the plan under the proposed county charter.

The charter is needed, claimed McClash, because countywide development issues are difficult to deal with and the "Accord" agreement reached three years ago between the cities and county over such issues has "no binding obligation."

He did agree that part of the downside for municipalities is that the city must comply with the county uniform land-use plan when approving their comprehensive and land-use plans. The city can be more stringent than the county under the proposed charter, he added, but not more lenient.

With the charter and uniform land plan, cities such as Bradenton and Palmetto could not annex land without county and planning council approval.

In addition, added McClash, a 1977 study by the Florida Legislature suggested that counties should establish "home rule" through a charter. Polk County, which includes Lakeland, recently passed a county charter.

Commissioner Don Maloney agreed the county needs a uniform land-use plan, but not one that governs the municipalities. He suggested a charter similar to Sarasota County, where the charter and land-use plan do not apply to municipalities.

Mayor Carol Whitmore, a strong opponent of the proposed charter, agreed the county needs a charter, but not at the expense of home rule for the cities.

"Use the Sarasota example as a 'starter charter' for growth management," she said.

Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger was a bit more vocal. "You have a legal right" to bring the charter to a countywide vote, "but do you have a moral right?"

Hold on a second, said McClash. "Don't just be on the 'no' side. Give us your input and make this better."

County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, whose district includes Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, said that if her constituents "do not support this, it will be difficult for me to support, so I need citizens to tell me how they feel."

Whitmore suggested that her constituency was already speaking because everybody she's talked to in Holmes Beach is opposed to the charter if it affects the city.

Manatee County Property Appraiser Charles Hackney presented figures to show that 88 percent of all new construction in 2004 was in unincorporated Manatee County.

The message was clear to Whitmore. "The county needs a growth charter, not municipalities."

The proposed charter is just "Joe McClash versus Wayne Poston all over again," she said, referring to the controversial 686-unit condominium development by the Arvida-St. Joe Co. approved by the City of Bradenton for Perico Island over the protests of McClash and other county commissioners.

The public is invited to attend the Jan. 27 discussion on the charter. It will start at 9:30 a.m. at the Manatee Civic Center on Haben Boulevard in Palmetto.

McClash plans to attend the Jan. 27 Anna Maria City Commission meeting to discuss the charter with that city.