- By Sarah Peters Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
After a series of contentious meetings filled with hours of debate, Palm Beach Gardens council members have agreed to ask voters to extend their time in office and change how they are elected.
The City Council approved four questions Thursday that will be put to voters on March 13, when no Gardens council races appear on the ballot. Three of the four questions about altering the City Charter, akin to its constitution, change elections or term limits that voters approved in November 2014.
Officials voted 4-1, with Councilman Matt Lane dissenting, to ask voters if:
Council members said the terms of the city manager’s employment should be negotiated as part of his contract instead of stipulated in the charter.
The lone “no” vote, Lane, has said the four questions are “deceptive” and that voters won’t really know what they’re voting on. He preferred limiting the council to two, four-year terms, but the rest of the council preferred three consecutive, three-year terms recommended by the Charter Review Committee they appointed.
Councilman Carl Woods said he feels he can do a better job in three, three-year terms, a point argued by other council members. Woods said he wants to be there to see the completion of spending from a penny sales tax to build parks and renovate City Hall, police headquarters and the fire station.
“The reason for the term limits agenda was to remove the last council, not us,” he said. “We want term limits that are in the charter that are well-defined and that are enforceable and that do not separate one group from another.”
Currently, council members who were in office when term limits were enacted face a lifetime ban on serving again, but the current council and their successors can run again after sitting out for a year, under an appeals court ruling last year. Some of those members had served for decades.
The distinction could leave the city open to lawsuit, City Attorney Max Lohman has said.
If voters say “yes” to changing when council members can run again, it will resolve the problem, he said. It would also allow people who have held office for decades to run again.
Residents have been critical of putting the questions to voters in March, when there’s no city races to draw voters to the polls. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher won’t allow municipal questions on the ballot in November and doesn’t like to take them in August because it adds too many pages, Lohman has said.
Former Mayor Linda Monroe said she suggested term limits when she was on the council many years ago, but “no one wanted to talk about it at that time” and was pleased when they came up again three years ago.
Monroe, who served 18 years, ultimately voted against the proposal, though, because she prefers council people be allowed to serve three terms instead of two. She said she doesn’t agree with the third term being allowed for current council members, though, if voters approve the question.
“I’m kind of sad to say that, but when you’re elected with two, three-year terms, I think you should live with it,” Monroe said.