There’s no ordinance yet on a proposal to send term length changes to referendum in Islamorada, but a majority of the dais believe they should extend beyond two years on a staggered basis.
An April 8 hybrid meeting of village council brought additional discussion over the idea of increasing term lengths beyond the current two years. Changing village council members’ term terms requires approval of an ordinance to amend the village charter. If approved by council, it would then go to a referendum either at the next general election or a special village election.
Attempts to change term lengths in the village was last seen in 2018 when council members approved a proposed ordinance for four-year terms. Going before the voters in the 2018 general election, longer term lengths were turned down with 57% of the village voters, or 2,031, saying ‘no’ to increased terms. Just over 1,520 approved of the change.
Vice Mayor Pete Bacheler said he spoke with other small cities that said two-year terms “just doesn’t work.” Terms of village council members aren’t currently staggered. As emphasized in the March 18 meeting of council, Bacheler acknowledged that staggering elections for seats will avoid a complete change on the dais — as witnessed in the village’s last election.
“Some ideas we have, as far-fetched as they seem, might take more than two years,” he said. “Three years, staggered terms is what I’d like to recommend.”
Councilman David Webb said the village must get the community behind the idea, and that comes with education on the intent and benefits with such a move.
“There’s some emotion-packed resistance to this,” he said. “To me, it’s the obligation of the constituency to choose wisely, not to have some fail-safe mechanism like a term limit, which takes them off the hook for being accountable for finding out what the candidates are about, finding out what they really stand for, what their character is and integrity.”
Webb went on to take issue with those who say politicians do nothing but raise money during campaigning, yet want to “inappropriately restrict somebody to two years.”
“We’re all up for election at the two-year point no matter what happens with these terms,” he said. “If people don’t like us for recommending staggered and increased terms, they got an opportunity to get rid of us and put a whole new cast of characters in here.”
Among the council members who have served a four-year term is Mark Gregg. Elected from 2000-04, Gregg came on as the lone freshman on the dais. Gregg said he had great comfort in looking up to his fellow council members for their historical knowledge.
“That gave them the vision to see where we needed to go,” he said. The five of us have been on the job for about five months. I don’t know if you have felt a sense of anxiety as I have felt for (the) wish of having someone here to help us.
Fortunately, there are still some former council members that I have made a few phone calls to,” he continued. “And I have relied upon them. I’m not going to try to hide that. I’m very grateful to those who’ve spoken to me.”
Councilman Henry Rosenthal said three-year, staggered terms is a reasonable way to go. Mayor Buddy Pinder also sided with fellow council members, but acknowledged that it’s up to the residents.
Capt. Ed Davidson, chairman of the Florida Keys Citizens Coalition, said voters have turned down four-year terms repeatedly not because of the current council, but due to former councils that “squandered public credibility by pretty much ignoring public sentiment and catering to other influenced groups.”
“Every one of you got elected by promising to be reformers. If any one of you campaigned to do what your previous council was doing, you wouldn’t have gotten elected,” Davidson said. “That’s the problem, it’s a perception problem.”
Davidson went on to commend council members for their work specifically related to the canceled Founders Park Pedestrian Bridge project in February.
Key West commissioners serve four year terms, while Monroe County commissioners also serve four-year terms. Marathon council members serve for three years, which means the election is no longer in sync with the normal county election cycle. As a result, the city pays the elections supervisor out of pocket to hold the election.
Islamorada Village Council’s next meeting is April 29 at 5:30 p.m. Capacity of the Founders Park Community Center for village council meetings is limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. The public can attend the meeting via Zoom or by watching Monroe County’s MCTV Comcast Channel 77.