A move to have voters decide on council term changes is set for consideration at the upcoming Islamorada Village Council meeting.
Altering the number of years an elected council member serves requires village approval of an ordinance to amend the charter. If the council says “yes,” a referendum would follow at the next general election or at a special election.
Vice Mayor Pete Bacheler initiated discussion during the March 18 meeting to gauge interest among fellow council members. While providing solidarity and cohesiveness on the dais, Bacheler said longer terms, whether it be three or four years, could be key in keeping a village manager for the long term.
“There are council members sitting here who want to do things that may take a year-and-a-half to get to and finalize,” he said. “And you can’t do that if at the end of the 15 months or so, you’re turning around and running for election again, hoping that you’ll get elected. If you don’t get elected, you won’t be able to do the project you’re working on for a year-and-a-half to get there.”
All seats were up for grabs in last year’s election, with former council members either running for other offices, terming out or choosing not to seek re-election. As a result, five new faces were chosen in the Nov. 3 general election.
Talks over potential term changes go back to Jan. 18, 2018, when the village council gave direction to the village attorney to review the charter and bring back information on changing the term of office for council members. On March 1, 2018, the council gave direction to prepare an ordinance for consideration that would create four-year terms that were staggered. By May 2018, the first reading of an ordinance was tabled.
Siding with Bacheler, Councilman David Webb said terms should be extended and staggered to gain stability on the council.
“If people are afraid that staying too long in the council is going to have a bad outcome, they need to pay more attention when they’re electing people,” Webb said. “If they think they need a term limit to make a change, even if our terms are extended you have to run for reelection at some point.”
Webb acknowledged the council is preparing to tackle major issues facing the village that include stormwater that could take 10 years to get from concept to construction. Webb said the council needs to have a discussion with the community about the intention and advantages of the idea and responsibilities as an electorate.
Councilman Mark Gregg, who also served on the council from 2000 to 2004, said he learned more in the second two years than the initial two.
“It takes a little time to build up some steam and get some things done,” he said. “I’ve heard the critics say two years is long enough; if you’re that good you can run for reelection and get back in there. There’s some merit to that, but if the concern is you don’t like who you elected, you can get them out.”
Council members didn’t object to bringing the topic forward for consideration under unfinished business at the April 8 hybrid meeting. During public comment, Capt. Ed Davidson said village residents have repeatedly rejected the concept of four-year terms. In addition, Davidson acknowledged that current council members have dealt with village matters before they were elected.
“One of them is a former councilor; one is a long-term interacter with LPA (Local Planning Agency) and council; a third is a second-time candidate and lifelong resident of Islamorada; another one is a longtime local citizen and restaurateur and the fifth is president of a local property owners association who’s had many dealings with the village government,” he said. “You’re hardly neophytes and (it’s) not arguable to require four years to figure out how to do your jobs.”
Davidson also said the council should hold two meetings and two workshops a month instead of once a month, “midnight marathon” meetings.