City Charter Review Moving Quickly; More Citizen Input Welcome
Next Meeting Set for Sept. 10
Last updated 9/10/2020 at 3:17pm
The Lake Wales Charter Review Committee is ahead of schedule and looking for public input on changes that can make city government operate better.
The next Committee meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10 at the city administration building, 201 W. Central Ave.
People can attend in person or join online by registering at https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/Register
The current Charter, which was last reviewed in 2010, can be found online at http://lakewales.elaws.us/code/charter
Interested persons may offer opinions or ask questions about any section of the Charter while the topic is being discussed or during the communications and petitions portion of the meeting. Input or questions also can be emailed to [email protected].
The mayor and commissioners each appointed one member to the Committee. Members, who have been meeting every two weeks since July 16, include: attorneys Sara Jones, Keith Wadsworth and Jim Weaver, and college administrator Andy Oguntola. The Committee chairperson is news publisher and consultant Chevon Baccus, who served on the 2010 Charter Review Committee.
The Committee will present its findings and recommendations to the City Commission, which will have the final say on which items will go for voter approval on the April 2021 ballot. So far, potential Charter changes the Committee may recommend include:
CANDIDATE RESIDENCY: Candidates for mayor or city commission currently must live within the city limits for one year before qualifying to run. The Committee is recommending a three-year residency requirement so potential commissioners have a better understanding of the community before seeking to govern.
MISSION STATEMENT: Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson advocated for a city mission statement to be included in the Charter. The Committee modified Gibson's suggestion and plans to recommend the following: The mission of the City of Lake Wales is to serve and unify its citizens, to foster economic growth while building on our City's existing small town values, and to promote the Bok ethic that we make our City "a bit better and more beautiful" for our being here.
PURCHASING: The Charter currently calls for the city manager to approve every purchase, which slows down the process, presents a significant paperwork burden and takes time away from the manager's other duties. The Committee is recommending aligning the Charter section on purchasing with procedures outlined in city ordinance – currently allowing department heads to approve budgeted purchases of up to $1,000 and city manager approval above that level. The Charter would just refer back to the existing ordinance.
COMMISSIONERS ELECTED BY DISTRICT: Commissioners currently are voted on citywide but must live in the district they will represent when they qualify to run. The Charter currently says a commissioner must give up the seat if he or she move outside the city. The Committee is recommending a commissioner vacate the seat if he or she moves outside their district.
FILLING VACANCIES: Currently if a commission seat is vacated, the city commission appoints a replacement, who serves for the remainder of the three-year term. The Committee is recommending if more than one year remains on the term the vacancy be placed on the ballot to be filled by the voters. The commission appointee would only serve until the seat is filled in the next city election. The newly elected commissioner would serve the remainder of the unexpired term.
CITY MANAGER RESIDENCY: The Charter specifies that the city manager does not have to live within the city limits at the time of employment. The Committee discussed whether to add a residency requirement to the Charter, and agreed to recommend that the city manager must live within "the greater Lake Wales area" within six months of employment. The city commission would still have the option to require residency within the city limits through their employment contract, but the Committee agreed limited executive housing options within the city or the desire of a manager to live on a large, rural piece of property might discourage candidates.
DUTIES OF COMMISSIONERS: The current Charter details the duties of the mayor, but doesn't specify duties of commissioners. Since these duties are not spelled out in the charter or ordinances, the Committee agreed it would be prudent to include them in the Charter. The proposed list of duties is still being fine-tuned by the Committee. (SEE sidebar story to the right, which includes updates from Aug. 27 meeting.)
TIMELINE FOR BUDGET AND 5-YEAR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN: (updated Aug. 27): The current Charter calls for the Capital Improvement Plan to be submitted three months before the budget is due to commissioners on Sept. 1; the CIP actually has been submitted simultaneously with the budget, a timeline the Committee agreed was appropriate. The Charter change would have both due no later than Sept. 1 so the Commission could adopt them in September before the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
OTHER ISSUES: The Committee discussed a possible change to have the city clerk become subject to the city manager. The Charter currently has the city clerk supervised by the city manager, but hired or fired by the city commission. To ensure a level of accountability, especially in light of the city clerk being responsible for public records, the Committee agreed not to recommend a change to the current structure. The Committee also agreed the city attorney should continue reporting to the city commission.