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County Charter Review Commission’s process is a mess

OPINION

BY TIM MARDEN

Last Wednesday night’s meeting of the County Charter Review Commission (CRC) got off to a very rocky start. The first, very pedestrian, act of approving the agenda created disruption and internal argument. Despite the Commission having several meetings under their belts already, they could not agree on how to initially proceed. 

Clumsiness continued with a totally disjointed motion regarding future communications with the attorney from Commissioner Tamara Robbins. Noone—not the clerk, attorney, chair, nor Robbins—could clarify the actual motion on the floor when voting came around. A vote was taken anyway, apparently in the spirit of “representative democracy,” an alternative description of our form of government offered during discussion by Commissioners Kristen Young and James Ingle.

After the spirited two-hour discussion of Single Member Districts (SMD) concluded, the lone Republican, Eric Drummond, resigned from the Commission. Drummond’s reason for resigning was the Commission’s lack of interest in the SMD proposal, which has garnered more support and discussion than any other. Drummond went on to say that the Commission was more interested in less-serious proposals “like renaming the county and giving human rights to Santa Fe River.” Drummond walked out following the 9-2 vote (he and Kali Blount voted against the SMD proposal), with several residents and City Officials from both Newberry and High Springs in tow. The motion that passed was a substitute motion from Commissioner Kristen Young to not advance SMDs to the County Commission for potential placement on the November ballot.

The remaining members of the CRC are all Democrats and mostly Gainesville residents. They are expected to push proposals expanding County government and more environmental restrictions. Proposals expected to advance: A new Charter Officer for the environment; granting human rights to the Santa Fe River; setting aside 25% of residential developments for subsidized housing; and giving the  Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) ongoing zoning rights to a property, even after the owner annexes into a City jurisdiction. Some of these proposals look to expand perceived shortfalls of a 2010 Charter Amendment on water quality, more commonly known and referred to as Amendment One. The County has been using Amendment One to assert greater authority in various areas of land development and water quantity issues ever since it passed. Some of those assertions have drawn fire from land developers and municipalities as being beyond the scope of Amendment One’s granted authority. 

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The scattered nature of the current CRC is not expected to change soon. Too much time has been spent on rhetoric about the process, rather than executing a process. This is not complicated. The CRC’s role is simply to review submissions for the BOCC. The merits of each proposal need not be debated ad nauseam. Those merits can be debated in the public sphere, once placed on the ballot. This Commission seems more interested in suppressing the ability of voters to even participate in the debates.   

Perhaps the next CRC, in another 10 years, can be better focused and streamlined. The Commission can review similar submissions in bulk, spend five minutes discussing them, and then vote to completely disregard submissions that have no standing for a Charter-level amendment (or that the attorney says are unconstitutional, although the Commission should have the right to further investigate that question). Each City should also be able to appoint a CRC representative. Besides Gainesville, which is overwhelmingly represented, there are eight other Cities in the County. Those Cities represent a significant portion of permanent residents. They deserve a voice, too—a voice this Commission is apparently not interested in hearing.  

Proposals can be submitted to the CRC through March 31. 

The next Charter Review Commission meeting will be in the Jack Durrance auditorium this Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.  Bring patience and a comfortable seat cushion.  

Tim Marden is a Newberry City Commissioner.

  • I agree, the CRC is a mess. I have watched most of the meetings online.

    However, it is not all the fault of the members. When people join any organization, they join an outfit with established rules and procedures in place to learn and follow.

    Every ten years, a group of volunteer citizens get appointed to the CRC and must create a unit of government, from scratch. All rules and procedures, the hiring of staff, and an attorney, must be done in three months with once a month meetings. Few citizens have the ability to do such a gigantic task.

    The “rhetoric about the process” continues because this CRC has not finalized their process, even though they are into the discussion phase of their real work, consideration of amendments.

    I see Commissioner Robbins trying to clarify the process because it needs to be done, and not being supported by other Commissioners. I see Chair Wheat being a dictatorial dominating Chair. I see Commissioner Little being a “Get off my lawn” bully, insisting the CRC adjourn at 9 PM because HE wants to leave. Yes, a dysfunctional mess.

    The idea that every city should have a representative is very misguided. The CRC is a County entity, charged with considering amendments which improve the lives of ALL the County residents. The 2010 Census shows 52% of the county population lives inside Gainesville city limits. Fact of life, Cousin Newberry, Gainesville IS your daddy.

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