AuBroncee Martin: Vote no on county charter questions 4,5 and 6
Published: Monday, November 1, 2010 at 9:54 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 at 9:54 a.m.
The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. This old proverb serves as a powerful illustration of the dilemma posed by Alachua County Charter amendments 4, 5 and 6. Consider the following:
These amendments have been touted as a mechanism for strengthening and clarifying the home rule authority of the county charter. Now taken at face value the notion fortifying home rule sounds like a perfectly valid expression of home town democracy; however upon close inspection you will discover that the only thing that these amendment will do is add an additional layer of ambiguity to an already complex government structure.
The basic premise of the charter form of government which is found in Article VIII sec. 1 (g) of Florida Constitution , is that counties operating under county charters shall have all powers of local self-government as long as its enactments do not conflict with the general law of the State of Florida, or The Florida Constitution itself.
Proposed charter amendments 4, 5 and 6 seek to avoid this prohibition simply by changing the titles of specified elected officials from Constitutional officers to Charter officers. While this is a novel approach it is by no mean a real solution to the legitimate concerns raised by citizens during the charter review process; for the simple reason that the many provisions of Florida law (like most things in life) do not operate in a vacuum. They exist within a vast interrelated statutory and constitutional framework in which great effort is applied to harmonize the inevitable conflicts in the law.
Case in point proposed charter amendment 6 calls for the abolishment of the Constitutional officers for the purpose of allowing for nonpartisan election , however the Florida Supreme court has recently held that charter provision may be invalid if the legislature has preempted, or in other word reserved sole authority over a particular subject area. Recently the Florida legislator has done just that in the form of Florida Statute 97.0115 which states that “all matters set forth in chapters 97-105(Election Code) are preempted to the state. So what does that mean? The bottom line is that the electorate of Alachua County could take dramatic step of eliminating the constitutional status of its county officers thereby jeopardizing the independence, responsiveness and accountability of these offices without necessarily achieving the goal of a non-partisan election because the state legislature has reserved authority to make decision concerning election procedures.
Now, I readily conceded that counties are authorized by the Florida constitution to abolish the offices of, sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, and a clerk of the circuit court entirely as long as "all the duties of the office prescribed by general law are transferred to another office. Although it should be noted that their does not exist a similar express grant of authority to abolished the office of County Commissioner. What I do not concede is that proposed charter amendment 6 is an effective execution of this authority. Elsewhere around the state when such a transition has occurred it has been accompanied by a specific grant of authority from the state legislature or the Florida Constitution itself ( e.g. Dade, Duval and Hillsborough counties) , and at a minimum a model or plan as to how these charter officer will deal with the issues of independence and accountability. Here there is no such plan.
Instead all that we have here is a great sense of uncertainty reminiscent of those infamous “Hanging Chad” of the 2000 election. In the final analysis Proposed Charter Amendment 6 as well as its companions 4 and 5 does not improve county government, rather they are collectively the consummate example of using sledge hammer to swat a fly. We should all look before we leap, vote no on Charter Amendments 4, 5, and 6
Alachua County Charter Review Commission
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