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Resist bid to bring charter change to the ballot

May 8, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

A diverse group of Lee County organizations have banded together to bring a charter amendment initiative to the voters this year.

Republican, Democratic and Libertarian groups along with community organizations like the NAACP have members taking part in an "education campaign" under the auspices of the Coalition For Common Sense Government, a political action committee.

The group is advancing some philosophical arguments to change how Lee County commissioners are elected. Specifically, the group wants the Lee County Board of County Commissioners to approve a ballot initiative to let voters decide if they would like to amend the charter to replace at-large county commission races with single-member district elections.

Under the current at-large method, Lee County's five commissioners must live in (or move into) the district they represent. They are elected into office by voters countywide; all registered voters can vote in each of the five races.

Under the single-member district proposal, commissioners would run in, and be elected within, their respective districts only; voters would vote for just one commission member, the member representing their district.

The primary arguments in favor, these proponents say, is better, more local representation and more accountability to voters within the "home" district.

These are interesting arguments that are not unique to local proponents of single-member districting, a common structure among Florida's larger counties.

These also are not new arguments as this is not the first time many of those proposing a charter amendment to make this very substantial change in Lee County's governing structure have brought the issue to the Lee County commission.

The county's charter committee considered the proposal a couple of years ago but the proposal did not garner enough votes to be recommended to the county commission. The board nevertheless considered the proposal and opted not to place the amendment on the ballot for various reasons.

Proponents of single-member districting are now hoping at least one commissioner has changed his or her mind "so the voters can decide."

We are not among those proponents nor are we among those who support bringing an improperly vetted proposal to the voters. To do so, in fact, would be irresponsible on the part of the Lee County commission, and we urge that board to hold to its guns, political expediency be damned.

Understand, there are three ways a charter amendment can be placed on the ballot: Through charter committee recommendation and county commission approval; through citizen initiative via a petition drive; and through direct county commission action, the method now on the table.

Amendments to the charter - Lee County's constitution, if you will - are intended to be rare. The process is exacting by intent, with a provision that does provide residents with an avenue directly to the ballot.

With the lack of formal charter committee endorsement, and no petition drive in sight, we simple don't see this being a priority of Lee's citizen base, reason enough for the Lee County commission to again reject a ballot initiative. That's how the process is intended to work.

And if the commission caves?

We will not be among those urging voters to change their form of government.

Simply stated, the current system works and works well for the county as a whole.

While we would agree that there are times when each individual community feels shorted, the long view, the countywide view, is the most beneficial longterm for all of us who live, work or pay taxes in Lee County.

We all get to vote for each of the five commissioners, not just one, and there's no need for district-by-district tradeoffs and tradeouts, the untalked about downside to single-member district elections.

The county needs to stand firm on this one on Tuesday.

Let the proposed amendment go through the proper committee or citizen-driven process if, in fact, residents want to see it on the ballot. Meanwhile, reject attempts to bypass these procedures to get it placed there anyway.

- Breeze editorial



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