Charter government subject of Manatee County Commission meeting Wednesday

In many of the Florida counties with charter governments, the county doesn’t look any different the day after the charter is enacted than the day before, according to Florida Association of Counties executive director Ginger Delegal.

“What is really different is the potential for reform for county government,” Delegal said Wednesday evening in Palmetto. “There is then a document that your county has voted on to potentially and dramatically change county government. By and large, it is just that potential and opportunity.”

Pushed by a citizens’ campaign to force the county to adopt a charter government, the Manatee County Commission hosted a workshop on the possibility Wednesday evening at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. The meeting was moved to a larger room in the convention center due to an anticipated large crowd, but many seats remained empty Wednesday.

Manatee County is the most active community in the state currently looking into charter governments, according to Delegal.

“These are far from done deals even if proposed charters makes its way to the ballot,” she said, noting that for some counties it takes multiple ballot efforts.

In March, the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, which has been active on the issue since the 1980s, had a luncheon titled, “Is Manatee Ready for Charter Government?” By the end of the luncheon, a petition was underway as residents started the latest effort for Manatee County to become a 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.

“No charter can have anything in it that conflicts or is inconsistent with state law,” Delegal said. “A charter does not get to trump state law. ... Just because something is in a charter does not mean that it’s constitutional.”

Since 1957, 20 Florida counties, which are home to more than 75 percent of the state’s population, have adopted a charter government.

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.

In addition to city officials and several constitutional officers including Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, about 50 citizens attended the commission workshop on charter governments during which Delegal delivered a presentation about the different types of government in Florida counties as well as the differences between charter vs. non-charter governments.

“When it comes to home rule, non-charter counties also have home rule powers in some ways similar to charter counties,” Delegal said.

In a charter government, ordinances as well as charter amendments can be proposed by citizen initiatives, Delegal said, adding that recall of county commissioners automatically becomes a possibility in a charter government.

“Recall is then automatic as a right of your citizens,” she said. “This is another way that we actually see citizen participation increasing in a charter government.”

Rosalie Shaffer, who is the League of Women Voters of Manatee County president, said the first charter for Manatee County should be a “starter charter,” keeping much the same.

“We saw back then this is a superior form of government that our county can benefit from,” she said. “We could shape our county government to meet the needs of our growing county.”

Ernest “Sandy” Marshall with the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations told officials Wednesday not to get alarmed that they are advocating for a charter government to fire the public officials, but rather to keep Manatee County how it is.

“We don’t want Miami Beach here,” he said.

Former Bradenton Beach mayor Katie Pierola said the Bradenton Beach charter is terrific and a Manatee County charter would be the same as what exists today.

“It shouldn’t scare anybody at all,” she said.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson

Florida counties with charter governments

  • Miami-Dade, 1957
  • Duval, 1968
  • Sarasota, 1971
  • Volusia, 1971
  • Broward, 1975
  • Pinellas, 1980
  • Hillsborough, 1983
  • Palm Beach, 1985
  • Charlotte, 1986
  • Alachua, 1987
  • Orange, 1987
  • Seminole, 1989
  • Clay, 1991
  • Osceola, 1992
  • Brevard, 1994
  • Lee, 1996
  • Polk, 1998
  • Columbia, 2002
  • Leon, 2002
  • Wakulla, 2008

Source: Florida Association of Counties