INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - In a letter to the president of the Pinellas County Mayors Council, Mayor Bill Ockunzzi has shifted the spotlight from the litigation involving the county and 21 cities over charter issues to how the charter should look in the future.
"Drop the lawsuit and pursue positive amendments to the County Charter for the benefit and protection of our citizens," Ockunzzi wrote in the December 18 letter to Frank Hibbard, who is the mayor of Clearwater.
Indian Rocks Beach, along with two other municipalities, did not join in the lawsuit which at first tried to stop charter amendments from being on the ballot in November and after the election has tried to further fight the county on the results of the voting.
Ockunzzi indicated that he favored the cities working together through the initiative process to place charter amendments before the voters.
This would "protect taxpayer pocket books by stopping the County Commission's ongoing and continuous quest for more power, control and revenue," Ockunzzi wrote.
He then listed four suggested amendments to the charter that would accomplish this, in his view. They are:
1. Seek an amendment that requires future charter review committees to be made up of elected officials from municipalities in proportion to the percentage of citizens who live in cities.
2. Seek an amendment that limits county taxing authority to the rollback rate plus, say, 5 percent unless six of the seven members of the County Commission vote for a higher rate. Any rate more than 8 percent above the rollback rate should require approval by all commission members.
3. Seek an amendment that limits county spending on new programs to countywide functions only, including equitable and mandatory revenue sharing with the cities.
4. Seek an amendment that requires the election of commission members from equally sized single member districts. Currently, some members come from districts and others are elected at large. Ockunzzi says that this punishes voters in small cities because large cities dominate the county.
In summation, Ockunzzi wrote that the cities should seek to amend the charter so that their governments and citizens get the protection needed to assure that future charter review committees "do not engage in further mischief" leading to attempts to dissolve or dilute municipal home rule and/or create mega government entities for the purpose of centralizing power at the county level.
This last was what the lawsuit brought by the cities was sort of all about and is also a swipe at the idea that the goal among some in the county is to make the county government dominant and overriding in Pinellas.
Some claim that Steve Spratt, the county administrator, who came from Miami-Dade where that kind of county dominance has taken place, was brought here to facilitate that goal.
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