Punta Gorda Charter Review Committee does its job

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Aug 13, 2022.

OUR POSITION: We believe the ballot questions suggested by the Punta Gorda’s Charter Review Committee (CRC) were well thought out and should be accepted by voters this fall if they get the opportunity to show their approval.

Pardon us for a moment while we stand up and applaud the performance of Punta Gorda’s Charter Review Committee.

The CRC, made up of community volunteers, meets every six years to listen to public input and make recommendations to put on a referendum for voters to approve or disapprove of. The referendum questions would pertain to the organization, powers and functions of city government.

The committee recently presented its recommendations to City Council, which must approve them in time to place the questions on the November ballot for voters.

There are three key questions voters might decide. They are:

  • Extending the term of City Council members to four years.

We are in favor of this idea. Council members have talked in the past about how two years is barely enough time to get comfortable and learn the ropes about how city government operates. Unless someone has an exceptional grasp on city government when elected, there are normally bumps in the road to getting their agenda in front of other council members and the public. Few campaign promises can be carried out in months.

  • Raising the pay for council members.

Right now, City Council members make about $13,900 and the mayor slightly more at $15,665. CRC members spent time looking at salaries of council members in similar-sized cities and also compared them to the Charlotte County commissioners, who make about $73,000 a year.

Like most elected positions, the job of a City Council member is no longer limited to a twice-a-month meeting and a few hours looking over project plans and talking to citizens. It is nearly a full-time job and the compensation should reflect that.

The referendum will call for raises of 35% for council members and 30% for the mayor of what county commissioners make. That would be in the neighborhood of $25,500 for the mayor and $22,000 for council members. Sounds fair.

  • Changing the dates for City Council elections to coincide with state and national elections.

This has long been an issue we have harped on. Punta Gorda has City Council elections in odd years, requiring special preparations and costing taxpayers. The ballot question would move elections to November in even numbered years. To do so, however, would require a one-time extension of a term or two until 2024.

We have proposed this idea before because, first of all as we said, it will cost taxpayers less to have an election held at the same time voters will go to polls to elect state and national candidates. It also means the county canvassing board and the Supervisor of Elections would certify the results instead of a separate city certification.

All of these changes, we believe, would be more convenient and easily accepted by voters. They all just make good common sense.

Again, we applaud the efforts of the Charter Review Committee to meet numerous times and to accept and consider public input at all meetings. They came up with logical recommendations that will streamline city elections and make the position of City Council member even more attractive.