Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Questions Surround Quest for a Charter

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Questions Surround Quest for a Charter

Article excerpt

MANATEE COUNTY

MANATEE COUNTY -- If at least 15 percent of Manatee County's electorate signs a petition in favor of initiating a charter government, the County Commission will be compelled by state law to honor it.

Yet that does not mean the county's elected officials will not express uncertainties about what that potential charter could say, and whether it could be a benefit or detriment to how the government they oversee functions.

Last week, the League of Women Voters of Manatee County conducted a program promoting charter county government. Counties without charters are structured according to state law. Counties with voter-approved charters have more flexibility in determining how their governments are structured, such as which campaigns are nonpartisan and which offices are elected or appointed.

After that forum, the League helped launch a petition drive.

The petition calls for the County Commission to create an 11- to 15-member committee to draft a charter that would be put on the ballot for the voters' approval or rejection. It does not specify the makeup of that committee or any details about what the charter would include.

For the petition to prevail, organizers will need to collect more than 35,000 signatures of registered voters.

"If the citizens want to look at this, that's their right," County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. "Whatever the citizens decide, we'll work with them."

Yet Whitmore remains skeptical that a charter will be an improvement.

About two decades ago, former county commissioners raised the issue of a charter that could impose uniform rules about growth and development countywide.

Whitmore, then the mayor of Holmes Beach, was among the representatives of the municipalities who argued against it.

According to the Florida Constitution: A county charter "shall provide which shall prevail in the event of conflict between county and municipal ordinances."

"That's why we fought it last time," Whitmore said of that stipulation, which can be interpreted as giving the county clout over the municipalities. "I (as a city official) didn't want the county to tell me what to do. …

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