Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Politicians ask Florida Supreme Court to kill voter-approved county term limits

It's official. Broward County politicians, hiding behind their attorneys, are appealing the recent appellate court decision that deemed county commission term limits constitutional. Yes, county term limits are going to the state Supreme Court.

Bill Scherer, acting for sitting Broward commissioner John Rodstrom among others, launched the appeal after losing his case at the appellate court level on Aug. 10. The appellate court had decided -- unanimously -- that home rule charter counties do indeed have the right to customize their county commissions as they have long done.

It is for this reason that some counties have seven commissioners and some have five, or even 13. Some have single member districts and some are elected from the county at-large -- and some have a blend of the two. Some have a strong mayor system and some have a commission-manager structure. Some counties offer nominal compensation to cover expenses and others offer high salaries with benefits. Some counties have term limits and some don't.

In home rule counties, all charter changes such as these are approved by the voters in a referendum, sometimes by a citizen's initiative after collecting thousands of signatures from their neighbors. Florida's county term limits were adopted by lopsided votes of the people, including 80% voter approval in Broward.

The August decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals upheld Broward County term limits, argued that this traditional understanding of home rule is correct. The people won; the politicians lost. It should have ended there.

But politicians grasp for power like a drowning man gasps for air. Scherer and his cronies argue in their appeal to the Supreme Court that the people cannot be trusted to alter their charter in this way. Instead, county commissioners should be treated just like constitutional officers -- such as the tax collector and property appraisers -- which are state creations over which the Supreme Court has said people have less say.

This is seen as a weak argument, as constitutional officers are distinct from county commissioners are treated in a different section of the state constitution. The quite readable 4th district decision makes this distinction as clear as day.

Meanwhile, the desperate Broward political clan is tossing 2012 county elections across the state into confusion in their last bid to hold on to the thrones that have enriched and, sadly but evidently, corrupted them.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Voters in half of charter counties have approved county term limits

This Supreme Court case isn't just about the antisocial ambition of Broward County politicians. The case will reaffirm -- or revoke -- the will of voters in 10 of Florida's charter counties.

Right now, half of Florida's charter counties have voter-approved term limits on their county commissioners. There are 67 counties in Florida.

But only charter counties -- sometimes called 'home rule' counties -- are permitted to customize their local government to meet local needs and concerns. There are 20 such counties in Florida, and they include the biggest ones. Orange, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade are all charter counties.

As explained on the Palm Beach County govenrment website, "True Home Rule gives the Board of County Commissioners the ability to create, through a local public hearing ordinance procedure, local laws that are not in conflict with or specifically prohibited by state general law or the Florida Constitution. This process is done without having to go to the Florida Legislature to request special legislation to create these laws."

Home rule has resulted in many different formats for county government, chosen by the people. For example, some counties have partisan elections and some don't.

For a simple and excellent primer on charter counties, see this presentation by the Palm Beach County Charter Review Commission. This was the source for the county comparison above.