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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

BIEO upset with von Hahmann, county charter proposal

Island politicians at their Nov. 17 Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting vowed to fight any Manatee County Commission proposal for a charter government that would take away their home rule.

The proposal was discussed at a county workshop Nov. 16 and, apparently, County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who represents the Island and Longboat Key, was in favor of a county charter, said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn.

"If Jane von Hahmann supports a county charter, then she's not representing her constituents," said the mayor.

BIEO members worried that if a county charter is passed, municipalities would lose their "home rule" and be subject to domination by the county.

As an example, said SueLynn, under a county charter form of government, a 90-foot height limitation imposed by the county would apply in all municipalities, allowing building on the barrier islands to exceed current limits.

Just hold on a second, said Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie. "We need to learn what a charter county means for us. We need to find out exactly what we are dealing with. I've heard horror stories, but let's get the facts and get everyone together."

The whole idea of a charter stems from the fight between the county and the City of Bradenton over development on Perico Island, he contended. "This is the big boys who want to go at each other and we're caught in the middle. It's frustrating," he said. If Manatee County were chartered, it could halt unilateral annexation by Bradenton and Palmetto without county approval, Chappie claimed, and that's what the county commission wants.

But Island cities and the town of Longboat Key need to be involved in the discussions about a county charter before it's placed before the voters.

"We have just 3 percent of the people, yet we account for 17 percent of the ad valorem taxes. We need to be heard and Jane von Hahmann needs to explain her position," said a frustrated Chappie. "We voted her in."

He said he'd ask von Hahmann to attend the Dec. 21 BIEO meeting in Bradenton Beach to discuss the issue and explain her position and reasons.

"Absolutely, I'll attend," responded von Hahmann. "There's a lot of confusion that we need to clear up and people shouldn't jump to conclusions. Nothing has been proposed, we've just asked our attorneys to draw up a draft document for discussion. The Island cities will be involved in any process.

"We're just trying to find a proposal for managed growth, and we don't want any proposal that would usurp power from the cities," she added. "But it's hard to talk about a county charter when we don't have a proposal."

Von Hahmann attends most BIEO meetings, but had a scheduling conflict Nov. 17. "I didn't even know the charter issue was on the BIEO agenda. I just ask people to wait on the facts or talk to me before making accusations."

She added that within three hours of the county commission meeting Nov. 16, she received an e-mail from Holmes Beach Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger that "jumped to conclusions" and accused her of masterminding a county charter that would control the cities. "It was a very nasty letter," she noted, but added she would respond to Bohnenberger and ask him to meet with her at the December BIEO to hear all the facts.

Anna Maria Commissioner John Quam suggested all members of the BIEO research what a chartered county means and be prepared to ask von Hahmann questions at that meeting.

In other business, members learned that under a new Florida statute, budget transfers from a city's reserve fund have to be done by ordinance if that city's charter calls for an ordinance to create the annual budget.

Cities can still do line-item transfers by a commission motion, said SueLynn, as long as the total amount of the approved budget remains the same.

Bohnenberger outraged
Holmes Beach City Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger was so upset to learn that county commissioners were discussing a charter government he sent an e-mail to County Commission Chairperson Jane von Hahmann blasting her and other commissioners.

"How dare you even think of a charter county?" said Bohnenberger. "You and the county commission have done the worst possible job of growth management. I can assure you that I will personally seek your recall."

He also ripped County Commissioner Joe McClash for "the gall to tell us that a charter county will be good for Island communities."

Charters can always be changed, said Bohnenberger in his e-mail, "stripping our citizens of any control over their own community."