If Manatee County had a charter government, the recent debate by the county commission on whether to allow Mosaic to expand its mining operations may have had a different outcome.
Hypothetically in Manatee County’s charter, there could be language that would have “either prevented mining in some areas of the county or required stipulations that would have made it a lot less dangerous to public and environmental health as well as our water supply,” according to the League of Women Voters of Manatee County president.
“The fact that the county commission, the majority of them, ignored so many citizens who protested the Wingate Mine shows a real need in this county for a charter government,” Rosalie Shaffer said to about 40 attendees who then broke out into applause.
Loudres Ramirez, who is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County, added: “There are ways to just raise the bar a little bit to not make it so easy for the county commission to say yes and rubber stamp all growth management changes.”
By the end of Monday’s luncheon titled, “Is Manatee Ready for Charter Government,” residents were signing a petition to have the charter government proposal move forward.
“Yes, there are a lot of pros and cons, but there is a really telling point and that is none of the counties who have gone charter have ever gone back to the old system,” Shaffer said. “They feel like it is better than what they’ve had because if something is wrong with it you can always change it but if you are stuck in the constitutional form, you are just plain stuck.”
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.
For example, Sarasota County’s charter has provisions that require recycling, establish county commission term limits, limit development outside the Urban Service Boundary and limit campaign contributions to $200.
“You would have to be very dedicated,” said panelist Jan von Hahmann, a former Manatee County commissioner. “You would have to really put a lot of effort in but it may be a time for us to look at. ... I think sometimes we feel like we don’t have a say too much anymore, especially on some of the things that go on at the board level. Even though we elect them, it is almost like we are not heard that well afterward.”
It will take having 15 percent of registered Manatee County voters, or about 35,000 people, sign the petition to have the charter government measure move forward. The county commission can also elect to start the initiative.
“Of all the counties that have a charter not a single one had to be started by the citizens’ petition,” Shaffer said.
When it comes to writing the charter, the choices are endless, Shaffer said.
“Citizens in charter counties definitely have a lot more say in government,” she said. “It’s a work in progress. It can constantly change with the needs of the time.”
Longboat Key resident Larry Grossman said there are a lot of good items that can be put into the charter.
“I think there are a lot of imbalances of power that have to be corrected that can perhaps only be done through a charter,” he said.
The petition effort will continue from 2-4 p.m. Saturday when a group will gather in the Central Library’s auditorium. Barbara 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 spearheading the effort and will re-purpose the PAC for the charter government petition.
“We are offering to drive this train on this initiative,” she said. “We are ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Florida counties with charter governments
- Palm Beach
Source: League of Women Voters of Manatee County presentation