A League of Women Voters of Manatee County luncheon may be the catalyst to spark another pursuit of Manatee County adopting a charter form of government.
“We are just putting out the information to the citizens so they understand what charter government is and what it can do and what it can’t do and the details for how a charter is obtained,” Rosalie Shaffer, president of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, said of Monday’s luncheon titled, “Is Manatee Ready for Charter Government?”
Charters, according to the Florida Association of Counties, are formal written documents — similar to the federal or state constitutions — that confer powers, duties or privileges on the county. Constitutional experts say charters allow for greater self-government free of state oversight, and give the county electorate greater control over regional affairs, according to the FAC.
With more than 75 percent of Florida’s population residing in 20 charter counties, including Sarasota, two community members will discuss whether a charter form of government is right for Manatee County during Monday’s luncheon, which begins at noon, at Bradenton Woman’s Club, 1705 Manatee Ave. W.
The two panelists are Lourdes Ramirez, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County, who will speak about citizen participation in Sarasota’s charter, and Jane von Hahmann, a former Manatee County commissioner.
“It is a more advanced, more flexible form of government,” Shaffer said. “Not a single one has gone back to the old system because they were dissatisfied with the charter form of government. There apparently is a great deal of satisfaction in the counties that have adopted one.”
While this is not the first time the charter government has been discussed in Manatee County, the League of Women Voters of Manatee County maintains its position in support, Shaffer said.
“That hasn’t changed,” she said. “We may eventually join with some other groups in promoting it. It just depends on the interest that develops at this program.”
Talks of a petition
With a petition already in the works, Manatee County resident Katie Pierola, who is a former mayor of Bradenton Beach, is hoping Monday will be the “magic day.”
“To me, it just gives more power to the people of this county,” she said. “We will see what happens. Everything is hard to do, but I think if we put our heads together with League of Women Voters, we might have a chance.”
It will take having 15 percent of registered Manatee County voters sign the petition to have the charter government measure move forward.
“We think people should have a right to choose,” Manatee County resident Barbara Elliott said. “This petition will enable them to say, ‘We want a choice.’”
Elliott, who is with Stone Soup Community Unity Political Action Committee, which fought to save Glazier Gates Park and attempted to recall Bradenton City Council members, is looking to re-purpose the PAC for the charter government petition.
“We already have this PAC thing set up,” she said. “We are ready to get petitions.”
On Saturday, March 18, Elliott has reserved the Central Library’s auditorium from 2-4 p.m. to get signatures on the petition.
“We are going to meet and organize,” Elliott said. “We are ready to go.”
With Stone Soup Community Unity PAC’s previous unsuccessful attempts, Elliott said they are “going to get justice one way or another.”
“This is one way to helping put control back in people’s hands,” she said.
A petition is one of two ways for the question of whether Manatee County should become a charter government can get on an election ballot, according to Scott Farrington, assistant Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.
“The first one is the Board of County Commissioners creates an ordinance and starts it themselves,” he said. “Without the Board of County Commissioners choosing to start it themselves, it can be done through a petition process.”
If the petition is signed by 15 percent of the registered voters in Manatee County, Farrington said it doesn’t immediately put it on the ballot.
“It forces the Board of County Commissioners to create a charter committee and then that charter committee will go through a process that is laid out, a relatively lengthy process, to create a drafted charter and that charter would go to the voters,” he said.
The process could take some time as the committee is required to meet for a certain number of times, Farrington said.
“The process is at least a year long process, maybe a little longer,” he said.
Still in the early stages
Since this isn’t the first attempt to make Manatee County a charter form of government, Pierola said they are just in the beginning stages.
“We know how hard it is,” she said. “It’s an awesome task. It may take us two years to do this. .... We don’t need the county commissioners to give their blessing. The citizens will give their blessing. It would be great if we could go up to the county commission and say it’s time to have a charter but they are going to say no.”
This will give power back to the residents of Manatee County, Pierola said.
“If we aren’t careful, every inch of ground is going to be taken,” she said.
With charter governments being discussed at Monday’s luncheon, Manasota-88 sent out an email about the subject last month.
“A charter government does not solve the problems associated with the impacts that rapid growth has on the quality of life in Florida, however, a charter government does have the potential to provide for local flexibility to tackle various issues associated with growth management,” the email states. “Having a charter government gives the residents of a county the flexibility to respond to local needs.”
Glenn Compton, with Manasota-88, said the charter government for Manatee County is “worthy to look at for a form of government because it would allow for increased public participation.”
“We’ve recommended that a citizen advisory panel be formed to look at pros and cons of a charter government for Manatee County,” he said. “It is a discussion worthy of pursuing.”
While Manasota-88 doesn’t have a specific recommendation for number of people on the committee, it should represent a wide range of interests, Compton said.
“It should be a cross section of interests of Manatee County has in its citizenship,” Compton said. “We’ve always contended that looking at charter government for Manatee County was a good idea.”
If you go: Charter government luncheon
- Noon to 1 p.m. Monday, March 13
- Bradenton Woman’s Club, 1705 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton
- Reservations aren’t required