Possible changes to petition requirements for citizen initiated ballot questions

The City Council had a relatively brief meeting on Thursday night.

Police Contract

The item with most financial impact to the city was the ratification of the 3-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), who represent the Gardens Police. The contract provides for a 2.5% rise in base pay over two years, and requires the union to make a contribution to the pension plan. The contract is expected to cost the city about $1M for its 121 Police employees. The Council, each in turn, congratulated both HR and the union for reaching the agreement, and thanked the police force for being patient during the hard fought negotiations.  It was felt that the contract would address expected retirements, allow for promotions from within as well as new hiring and continue to focus on addressing pension funding issues.  Kudos were given to the department for keeping Palm Beach Gardens the safe place it is.

Term Limits Petitions

A topic with potential long-term impact to city government was discussion related to a lawsuit served against the City earlier in the day by a group seeking Term Limits for the Council.  (See the PB Post article.)  The city currently requires that citizen initiated referenda on the ballot require petitions from 15% of the registered voters, (approximately 5800 signatures). State statutes only require 10% or 3900.   City Manager Ferris and City Attorney Max Lohman both suggested that an ordinance be introduced in April’s meeting to reduce the requirement to the state’s 10% which would resolve the lawsuit as well as make it easier for citizens to engage with their government.  (Given that less than 10% typically vote in a municipal election, and a candidate only needs 1% to get on the ballot, this sounds reasonable.)  Mr. Lohman pointed out that it is an enabling ordinance that has the requirement and not the Charter (which only states “The qualified voters of the city shall have the power to institute initiative and referendum procedures as provided by general law of the State of Florida.”).  Thus, it will not require a ballot initiative to make the change.  Members of the council opined that the initiators of the lawsuit could have come to the council to make the request for such a change instead of resorting to a lawsuit.

The topic expanded to include discussion of a much needed Charter Review – with all the council agreeing that the subject needs to be brought up again.

40th Terrace Project

Another item that has been the subject of discussion over many months was the issue of services to the neighborhood of 40th Terrace and Sunset Drive.  Sufficient responses had been returned to the city to allow for the next step – having an informational meeting / open house for the residents of the area in order to explain what can be done for water and sewer improvements and to answer any questions they may have.  The open house will be on March 24th from 6pm-7:30pm.  Affected residents will be notified and a posting will also be made on the city website.

Honda Classic

The success of the Honda Classic was described by Councilman Joe Russo.  City Manager Ron Ferris also pointed out that the close marketing partnership with the Honda Classic website led to many more hits for the City’s website from all over the world and that the marketing partnership will continue in the future.

Public Comment

Residents speaking during Public Comment were:

  • Ruth Peeples requesting more information on the confidentiality agreement with the stadium proposal as the document disclosed under a public records request wasn’t signed by anyone on the council or the city manager.  The City Attorney explained some of the relationship between the Business Development Board and requirements of State Statute 288.075.  Note: Similar questions had been raised by Vito DeFrancesco and former mayor Mike Martino – so the transparency/handling of the stadium proposal remains a citizen concern.
  • Michael Peragine (candidate for City Council Group 3 and on the board of Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits) took issue with the council comments on the lawsuit, stating that many emails had been sent to both the administration and council requesting such a change with no response.  He also spoke in favor of a Charter Review and was strongly in favor of the PBA Contract.
  • Sheldon Rich thanked the Council for all they do and praised the city.  He was upset by the negative politicking during this election cycle and negative press for the City as a result, and suggested that those who are unhappy should consider moving out.

All Ordinances and resolutions on the agenda were passed unanimously.

So save the date – April 3rd for the next City Council meeting and remember to vote on Tuesday March 11!

Thanks to resident Steve Tarr – who once again recorded the meeting in its entirety and posted it on Youtube – view it  here.

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