Carrabelle city commissioners are preparing to approve a change that would align their municipal elections with that of the county, eliminating the off-year city balloting.
If approved on two readings, in February and March, the move would extend all the incumbents’ terms by one year, as well as save the city nearly $6,000 in annual costs.
By a unanimous vote at the regular meeting Jan. 3, the commissioners approved moving forward with a first reading, on Feb. 7, of the motion to amend the city charter. In her presentation of the proposal; Mayor Brenda LaPaz asked that all five commissioners sign off on signature lines to the paperwork, and both Tony Millender in his motion, and Keith Walden in his second, agreed to include that provision.
In her comments, La Paz noted that this was the sixth discussion regarding changing city election dates to coincide with county election dates.
The effort began July 26, when Supervision of Elections Heather Riley presented options and answered questions regarding changing the dates. At that time, commissioners reviewed a 2017 survey conducted by the Florida League of Cities that showed 42 percent of Florida cities hold municipal elections during the November general elections.
Discussions were held at each of the next three monthly meetings, and on Oct. 25, commissioners voted 4-1, with Cal Allen opposing, to approve a motion was made to turn the city’s election powers over to the supervisor of elections in their entirety and to take staff out of the election process.
Allen’s opposition has stemmed from his belief that such a move towards county control would be a further encroachment on the city’s home rule authority.
Before approving the specifics of the change last month, the commissioners heard a report from City Attorney Dan Hartman that concluded, after a review of the city charter, Florida statutes and opinions of the Florida attorney general, a citywide referendum of voters would not be required to make the change.
Commissioners had wrestled with the timing of the change, which boiled down to whether or not to add a year to incumbents’ terms, or to take one away. In order to keep it so that all four commissioners and the mayor would not have to elected in a single year, and to keep the terms staggered, it made sense to add a year to everyone’s four-year term.
As a result, if approved by the commission, the election of the mayor, and of the seats held by Commissioners Frank Mathes and Walden, who were elected in 2015, would not be before voters in Sept. 2019, but would be held in concert with the 2020 county elections.
The seats of Allen and Millender, chosen in 2017, would not expire in 2021, but would face Carrabelle voters at the 2022 county elections.
Following those two elections, the cycle would return to a regular four-year term, with elections on even years in conjunction with countywide balloting.
In advocating for the change, La Paz said the change would result in about $5,800 in annual savings to the city, and lead to improved voter turnout. In addition, she said the move would eliminate electioneering taking place at the same time city budget workshops and hearings are being held, and lead to “a considerable improvement of efficiency in city staff productivity because the county supervisor of elections office would manage and handle all the election functions and duties.
“That’s what they do best,” she said. “Why would we fund the service when they can do it for free?”
Riley said this week that by Florida statute, the city clerk would remain the elections official, with the task of qualifying all the candidates.
She said the supervisor of elections office would perform all other election-related tasks, including ballot layout and preparation, absentee balloting, pollworker training, and ballot tabulation.
“Each municipality has its own charter which governs the requirements for becoming a candidate,” Riley said. “Prospective candidates should consult with their respective city clerk well in advance of the qualifying dates to learn about those requirements.”
She said she believed turnout would improve if the change were adopted. In 2017, 281 Carrabelle voters cast ballots in municipal elections, out of fewer than 900 voters, a total somewhat smaller than the 944 registered voters currently in Carrabelle.
That would mean there was a turnout of roughly 30 percent, compared to a turnout of 84 percent in the 2016 general elections, and of 80 percent in the 2018 balloting.