In addition to the numerous races and state constitutional propositions on the already-long Nov. 3 general-election ballot, DeBary’s citizens have a seven-point referendum on whether to amend their city’s charter.
The proposed changes are the result of a Charter Review Commission appointed by the City Council last year. The five-member Charter Review Commission spent several months discussing ways for improving DeBary’s equivalent of a constitution, and the panel’s recommendations were submitted earlier this year and refined into seven ballot questions.
“According to the charter, we have handled the charter review,” Mayor Karen Chasez said. “These are the changes that they [CRC] suggested.”
Amendment 1, if adopted by a majority of DeBary’s voters, would raise the pay of the members of the City Council. The pay for the elected officials has not changed since 1997.
The mayor now receives a monthly salary of $500, while each of the other four members receives $400 per month. If the amendment passes at the polls, the mayor’s pay will increase to $800 per month, and the other members of the council will get $650 monthly.
The amendment further provides for future pay raises, by adding the following language to the charter: “At the beginning of each fiscal year, Mayor and Council compensation shall be adjusted based upon the CPI [Consumer Price Index].”
Amendment 2 may be described as a “housekeeping” ballot question. It contains five separate changes. The items are bundled together in a single question with this ballot title: “Providing for a map of the city, date clarification, gender neutral language, and spelling correction.”
Nothing in the amendment mentions the map of the city, but the “date clarification” calls for the City Council to choose a vice mayor at its first meeting in January, following an election of new council members.
Another point in the set is that the feminine pronoun “her” is to be added to a section about the mayor. The revised wording of Section 402 (d) states: “Shall perform such other duties, consistent with his/her office, as may be delegated to him/her by the City Council.”
The charter is not perfect in its use of words, and it may seem strange that it takes a charter amendment to correct a misspelling. In section 11.05(b), the phrase “ad valorem taxies” appears. The adoption of Amendment 2 would change “taxies” to “taxes.”
Amendment 3 provides for changes in the dates of city elections and future charter reviews.
When DeBary was first established as a city in 1993, council members were elected for three-year terms. The three-year terms have been phased out, in favor of four-year terms, and the revised amendment would eliminate any regular elections in odd-numbered years.
Moreover, the charter sets the term of elective office at four years, and charter reviews would take place every eight years. The charter currently stipulates charter reviews will be done every seven years. The new provision would ensure the city’s regular elections are consistent with Volusia County’s election cycles, which run in even-numbered years.
Amendment 4, as well as clarifying the conclusion of the city’s budget process, would extend the time limit for DeBary to borrow money for current or future needs.
The charter now requires the City Council to “adopt the budget by resolution on or before the 30th day of September each year.” Under state law, the new fiscal year of cities and counties begins Oct. 1.
City leaders are asking voters to add another phrase in case more time flexibility may be needed: “or as otherwise permitted by general law, executive order, or other State authority.”
Amendment 4 also contains a major change in DeBary’s financial affairs, in that the City Council would be authorized to take on new debts for as long as 10 years for the acquisition of real property or for capital improvements. The charter now sets a seven-year limit on the borrowing period, unless the city’s voters approve a longer-term debt in a referendum.
The maximum borrowing time would not apply in cases in which state or federal authorities set a longer repayment term.
Amendment 5 is a catchall revision that addresses three unrelated topics: the elective-office-forfeiture process, the city manager’s contract, and the enactment of ordinances.
First, if a City Council member is suspected of improper action that could result in his/her removal from office, the proposed provision would require “a written complaint [to be] with the City Clerk alleging such a forfeiture event.” The council will convene a hearing on the charge at its next regular meeting to determine if “the event is determined to have occurred.”
Further, the council “shall suspend the member with pay for up to 60 days.” The suspension from office is a new addition to the process.
During the suspension, the council and the “suspended member may gather facts and evidence” for a forfeiture hearing. The forfeiture hearing is a political trial in which the council sits as jury and judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the colleagues suspected of violating the charter. At the end of the hearing, the council may vote on whether to oust the member from office.
Forfeiture of office is not a criminal or civil penalty. The accused official does not lose any civil or political rights, and he/she may run for office — including the post from which he/she was expelled — once again.
As for the adoption of ordinances, the proposed amendment provides that an ordinance may be introduce by “a majority vote of the City Council, or by the City Manager,“ subject to requirements for public notice of pending action on such measures.
Amendment 6 is another housekeeping measure, encompassing three matters: defining City Council meetings, attendance at meetings, and absences from meetings.
If approved by the voters, the revision would permit the council to act only on those items for which the meeting was called.
Currently, a council member may be removed from office for missing regular meetings — for any reason — during a 12-month period. The proposed charter change would allow the council to excuse absences, with “an affirmative vote of at least three members.”
If a suspended member misses a meeting, his/her absence would “not count for the purposes of forfeiting” the office, according to the suggested charter change.
Amendment 7 sets the terms of City Council members at four years and eliminates from the charter all the language that pertains to three-year terms of office.
As the election nears, and with early voting already underway, DeBary’s leaders are trying to get out the word to voters to read and study the charter questions and make an informed decision on each of them.
Asked if the number of propositions may be too daunting for some voters — who may, out of frustration, ballot fatigue, or lack of understanding of them — simply vote against all of them, Chasez replied, “Some of the things are just housekeeping changes.”
“There was a lot of effort to pare it down to seven. I wish we could have kept the changes to two or three,” she added.