Lox Council Moves Forward With Proposed Charter Referendum

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the preliminary reading of an ordinance Tuesday, Nov. 5 calling for a referendum to make minor changes to the town’s charter. If granted final council approval, the referendum will appear on the Tuesday, March 17 ballot for voter approval.

The town’s Charter Review Committee has been meeting for several months to review the charter, which has not been updated since the town’s incorporation.

Proposed changes include the deletion or amending of passages outlining how the town would be created and its form of government, initial elections, the transition schedule upon incorporation, the initial election of council members, first-year expenses, the merger and dissolution of taxing districts, service providers that no longer exist and other provisions considered outdated or not applicable.

Mayor Robert Shorr asked about the provision for council candidates qualifying for election submitting information to the town clerk and specifics regarding the deadline.

“If we’re going to keep ‘deadline’ in there, then I think there should be something added that says, ‘Any resident who wishes to become a council member shall contact the town clerk by the deadline in conjunction with the supervisor of elections,” Shorr said.

Municipalities used to have set qualifying periods that never changed. However, recent changes to state law have required election supervisors to request changes to qualifying periods.

Currently, Town Clerk Lakisha Burch said that the qualifying period is established by the council through a resolution. “You would know when the period is,” Burch said. “This year, the qualifying period is from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10,” Burch said. “Your resolution will state the qualifying period.”

Shorr also questioned the proposed ballot title having the clause “and other housekeeping issues.” He said it should only include “amendments to address various outdated and obsolete provisions.”

“I think it should stop there because that’s what we are doing,” he said.

Town Attorney Brian Shutt said the reason “other housekeeping issues” had been included was to cover any items in the proposed charter revisions that might not be considered “outdated and obsolete” to some people.

The council finally agreed to delete “other housekeeping issues” and insert “non-applicable issues.”

Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey questioned whether “and taxing districts” should be included in the question, “Shall Loxahatchee Groves amend its charter to delete certain provisions or portions of a provision that are outdated or no longer applicable to the town regarding boundaries, qualifying periods, standards of conduct, transition schedule, terms and taxing districts?”

“We still have taxing authority for acre assessment, so are we actually getting rid of the taxing district?” El-Ramey asked.

Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said the beginning of the sentence reads that the referendum is amending the charter to delete “certain provisions.”

“We’re not necessarily wholesale deleting them, we’re modifying them,” Titcomb said.

Shutt said that two taxing bodies being deleted no longer exist, and the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District is now dependent to the town.

Shorr said it was important not to mislead the public when it comes to voting on the referendum.

Shutt said the reason he included “and other housekeeping issues” was to be as broad as possible so voters would not think the referendum was trying to hide something. He suggested adding “that are no longer applicable” after “taxing districts” to clarify the language.

Shorr asked if the town would be sending any information to residents making them aware of the referendum and the nature of the amendments and deletions. Shutt said the town and the council cannot advocate for the changes one way or the other, but the council could take steps to make voters aware of the changes and advise them to contact town staff if they have questions.

Titcomb said appropriate content will be added to the town web site to describe the ballot question. “As the attorney said, we cannot advocate for or against them,” he said.

Shutt said there is a 15-word limit to the title and a 75-word limit to the content of the referendum question, and he would work on the wording to make sure the changes got in without exceeding the limit.

During public comment, former Councilman Ron Jarriel, who serves on the Charter Review Committee, said the committee had worked hard to develop the proposed changes.

“You’ve got a good Charter Review Committee,” Jarriel said. “We’re putting a lot of time in on it. The clerk, legal and staff are doing an outstanding job. I just want you to know we’re trying to move ahead as quickly as we can. We put more time in it than what you thought we were going to put into it, and we’re trying to get as much to you as we can so we can vote on it at the next election.”

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia made a motion to approve the preliminary reading of the ordinance with the charter revisions, which carried 5-0.

Aside from any proposed referenda, the Tuesday, March 17 ballot includes one council seat — Seat 5, currently held by Vice Mayor David DeMarois — as well as the statewide presidential preference primary.