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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Charter changes discussed for Bradenton Beach

Bradenton Beach voters may have the opportunity to change the way the city does business on their August ballot.

City commissioners agreed to further discuss changing the city's charter - the document that allows the city to be a city - in several areas including the city's form of government.

Bradenton Beach has what is called a "weak mayor" form of government. The mayor, although elected rather than appointed, has the same weight in voting as a city commissioner.

"Do we want to keep the 'weak mayor' form of government, which we have now, or change?" asked Vice Mayor Anna O'Brien. "Anna Maria has a strong mayor form of government. We need to get these questions out of the way because we need to get the choices to the voters."

Anna Maria voters approved a charter change in that city last year that went to a "strong mayor" government, where the mayor is not a voting member of the city commission but can veto a commission decision. The mayor, in effect, serves as the administrator of the city under a "strong mayor" program.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney is proposing a ballot initiative for citizens there to have the city's current "strong mayor" government amended to include the hiring of a city manager.

Other possible ballot items in Bradenton Beach would be the state-mandated determination of a "local planning agency," pursuant to state law regarding comprehensive plans.

Bradenton Beach, in 1989, designated its planning and zoning board as the local planning agency. O'Brien said the board is comprised of "citizen volunteers and they don't have the expertise. If we want to have the P&Z as the planning agency, we need to get them educated."

City Commissioner Lisa Marie Phillips brought up another aspect of the designation: liability. "Board members as officers of the city have accountability that should not rest on their shoulders," she said. "The liability should not rest on them. They can be sued."

City Commissioner Peter Barreda suggested that all decisions facing the city be finally decided by the city commission. Currently, P&Z is a mostly advisory board, the city's code enforcement board and board of adjustment are both independent bodies whose decisions are not placed into the purview of the city commission.

Another planning-related aspect of the ballot questions lies in the way comprehensive plan amendments have been done in the past 15 years. O'Brien said many of the amendments were made to the city's future land use map, but were not encompassed within the text of the comprehensive plan, thereby giving the changes greater emphasis. She said that could be addressed within the charter.

O'Brien said city staff had also suggested changing the length of service for commissioners and the mayor from the current two years to three.

Commissioners agreed to have further workshops on the questions before drafting language for the ballot for voters to decide if changes should be implemented or not.