|Posted by Anne Siren on February 19, 2013 at 3:30 PM|
By Michael d’Oliveira
Oakland Park – Along with five commission candidates, voters in this city will be asked to decide on six referenda questions in the March 12 election.
The city’s Charter Review Board approved the first four questions unanimously but the last two, moving municipal elections from March to November and eliminating numbered seats, have fostered disagreement.
On moving elections from March to November, one side says holding them in November will save the city tens of thousands of dollars and increase turnout. The other side says moving the date would mean city candidates would get lost in the mix of state, county and national elections.
“City government is a unique level of government,” said former mayor Layne Walls, who is running for Seat 5 against Tim Lonergan. She voted against moving the elections when she was a member of the Charter Review Board.
She’s also worried that future elections will become partisan fist fights. “If they move [to November] there’s no way that [political] parties won’t get involved.”
Local elections of municipal officials is a non-partisan vote in Florida. Candidates who identify their political parties in advertisements or public announcements could be charged with ethics violations.
Bill Sears, Charter Review Board member, voted for the move.
Sears said past turnout has been “pathetic” and the cost is too much, “especially in this day and age.” According to the city clerk’s office, the city has budgeted $67,000 to pay for the election but the exact figure won’t be known until after the votes have been cast.
In the 2011 city election, 3,865 of the city’s 22,715 registered voters cast ballots.
In the November 2012 general election, 25,408 voters were registered and 16,084 went to the polls.
“Our numbers are so small that if we can add even a thousand people, that’s huge,” said
Joanne Darling, Charter Review Board member. She also thinks the money saved could be put to better use. “I’d love an extra police officer. That’s a lot of money to me.”
Voters will also be asked if they want to have citywide elections for all candidates. Such a move would mean that candidates would not seek election for a specific seat, rather, the top vote-getters would be elected as commissioners.
Those in favor say that since the seats aren’t tied to a geographical boundary there is no need to have them. If the referendum passes the top vote getters in the next election will be elected. Presently winners are elected based on the top vote getter for each seat.
Commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue said some people are confused by the current system. She said the city-wide process will be easier to understand, and voters can choose their favorite candidates overall.
Sears prefers numbered seats because it eliminates the need for unchallenged candidates to mount campaigns.
By keeping the seats, Sears said, a candidate will only have one or two opponents to raise money against. But by opening it up, every candidate will have to raise more money to run against everyone else.
The other four referenda will ask voters to decide on: filling the position of vice mayor if a vacancy occurs, the elimination of ineffective language, making the city manager approve public improvement contracts under the rules of the city’s procurement code and requiring commissioners with a voting conflict to disclose that conflict.
Visit, www.oaklandparkfl.org for a sample of the Oakland Park ballot.