Wellington Charter Panel Sends Final Wording To Council

Wellington’s Charter Review Task Force made last-minute tweaks to six proposed referendum questions in its final meeting Wednesday.

The proposed referendums will now be sent to the Wellington Village Council for consideration.

The task force has been meeting for the past year to consider possible changes to the charter, which was originally written in 1995.

Task force members attending the final meeting were Chairman Ken Adams, Victoria McCullough, Michael Napoleone and Francine Ramaglia.

The first question is on allowing the council to approve compensation for themselves by a simple majority vote, with the change to take effect following the next regular election. The current charter permits the council to approve a raise for itself by a super-majority of four votes. The ballot question asks voters to amend that, allowing council compensation to be increased by a majority vote.

The second question is about the filling of vacancies for the mayor and council members.

The ballot summary points out that the charter currently treats the filling of vacancies in the offices of mayor and council members differently. The language is different because having a mayor elected by the public, rather than by council appointment, was approved by voters several years after the charter was written.

The proposed amendment would fill all vacancies in the same manner by providing that vacancies will not be filled if the unexpired term is less than 180 days, and would require a special election if 180 days or more remain. It also provides that the vice mayor would serve as mayor until a new mayor is elected. The ballot question asks specifically whether the vacancies of council members should be filled in the same way as the mayor.

The third question is regarding the calling of special meetings. The charter currently allows the mayor, or in his absence, the vice mayor, to call a special meeting with 72 hours’ notice. The proposed amendment would require notice of special meetings in accordance with Florida law, which only requires “reasonable notice” and does not specify a time frame.

Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said modern communication methods, such as the Internet, allow for effective notice to be made in less time, and would allow meetings to be called in the event of emergencies when a more immediate response is required.

The task force agonized over the fourth question regarding referendum power when the adopted millage rate exceeds 5 mills. The task force determined that a referendum would be ineffective due to time constraints between when the budget is enacted and the time necessary to initiate and authorize a referendum.

Task force members were concerned, however, that the question would appear to be taking away a right from the public, and voters would not approve it.

After making several amendments to the wording, the task force approved the question to read: “The charter provision permitting referendum when the millage rate exceeds 5 mills is unenforceable and could potentially result in a waste of taxpayer money. The proposed amendment would remove this provision from the charter…”

Cohen pointed out that the charter provision had never been used.

The fifth question is regarding the transition schedule of the village from an independent special district to a municipality. The proposed amendment would eliminate the provisions relating to that transition because the process has already occurred.

The sixth question is in regard to the protection of the Equestrian Preserve Area within the charter. The original charter makes no reference to the Equestrian Preserve Area. The proposed amendment would permit properties to be voluntarily included to the Equestrian Preserve Area.

The original language for the question would prohibit removal of properties from the Equestrian Preserve Area without a referendum, but Cohen pointed out that a state statute prohibits a development order or map from going to a voter referendum, so the task force changed the language from “referendum” to a “super-majority of the council.”

“The language, as drafted, would have been unenforceable, so rather than go with the language of having a referendum, if someone wanted to remove their parcel from the EPA, the wording was changed so that it would require a super-majority vote,” Cohen said.

If any of the questions are approved by the council, they are currently planned to be included on the March 2016 ballot for voter approval. No charter changes can be made without voter approval.