The Monroe County Commission next week will discuss whether to make the county a “charter government,” which would give county pre-emption powers to prevent Florida Keys municipalities from enacting laws that county commissioners oppose.
The designation could also enact term limits or set up single-member voting districts, as currently commissioners are elected county-wide.
In addition, the designation could allow for the election of a strong mayor or county executive, alter the term of office for commissioners from four years to some other time period, create non-partisan elections for county commissioners, increase the number of commissioners and allow citizens to hold recall elections for county commissioners, according to a memo by County Attorney Bob Shillinger.
The commission will discuss moving forward with the proposal when it meets Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Newly seated Commissioner Eddie Martinez proposed the idea as way for the county to impose various fees, tolls on U.S. 1 and other taxes in lieu of raising property taxes. The charter designation would give the county greater flexibility in levying such fees and taxes, Martinez said.
Martinez is only calling for a discussion of the charter idea at this time. If the Monroe County Commission agrees to move forward with it, he would like to see the matter go before voters for approval, he said.
County Mayor Michelle Coldiron said she is interested to learn more about why Martinez is proposing the idea. She wants to see the pros and cons and said “the devil is in the details.”
Commissioner David Rice said he “is willing to listen with an open mind,” but he wanted to know “what’s broken” with how the county is currently operating.
“If the county could tell the cities what to do, that would not be very popular,” said Rice, who added that several areas of the county incorporated into cities because they were not happy with county rule.
Rice said he supports the ability to levy a transportation tax or increase the current sales tax, but he does not support single-member voting districts. He said it would “disenfranchise the voter.”
The county had looked at forming a charter government in the past and found it could be a more expensive form of government, Rice said.
Commissioner Mike Forster, a former Islamorada councilman who was elected to the commission in November, was still reviewing the proposal as of press time, but said he is “not comfortable with it right now” and might not be so in the future.
Islamorada Mayor Buddy Pinder was not aware of the discussion when it was brought to his attention on Monday but planned to discuss it further the village attorney.
Marathon Mayor Luis Gonzalez was aware of Martinez’s proposal but not specific details. He said Monday he planned to discuss the proposal with City Manager George Garrett on Tuesday.