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Committee recommends status quo on compensation, terms

January 17, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The Sanibel Charter Review Committee moved to recommend no term limits nor compensation for both city council members and planning commissioners during its first meeting of the new year.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend keeping the existing language of the city charter's first three Articles, maintaining the status quo, on Jan. 10 - its second meeting since first gathering in December. The first three sections of the charter covered Powers, Corporate Limits and Legislative.

The committee discussed terms and compensation at length before casting a 7-0 vote on both.

Committeeman Richard Johnson explained that implementing term limits for the city council may be unnecessary as Sanibel voters can vote to retain effective members and vote out ineffective ones.

"We do have an alternative to term limits and that is the voice of our voters," he said.

Mayor Kevin Ruane agreed, offering some insight on a personal level.

"Maybe because I'm the incumbent, but no one has ever suggested, 'Maybe we should have term limits' or 'Maybe you should step aside,'" he said.

Following some public comment and discussion from the dais, member Larry Schopp voiced opposition to implementing term limits. He said he had not heard any real argument in favor of it.

As for recommending compensation for council members, some on the committee expressed concern about "incidental" expenses that may not be covered. Currently, the positions are unpaid volunteers.

"I do have a little bit of concern for those incidental expenses," Johnson said. "I'm not a proponent of compensation for the positions, but I am a proponent for making sure we provide financially for our leaders so they don't have to come out of pocket for any expense."

He suggested a possible "moderate compensation" for those serving to fill the gap.

Chair and Committeeman Member Aaron Pruss explained that he favored a possible "monthly stipend that bridges the gap." However, he did not agree with compensation or "enough to make a living."

Ruane reported to the committee members that major expenses, like meals, hotels and airfare, are reimbursable. Council members can also be reimbursed for what they feel are "reasonable expenses." For example, he said, alcohol consumed at a business dinner or event tickets could be reimbursed.

"There are incidental expenses that I choose (to pay for out of pocket), but that's my choice," Ruane said of personally not asking the city to reimburse him for "reasonable" or "incidental" expenses.

He noted that he did not agree with salaries for the council and that he would not take one.

"I think this (compensation) should go to the ballot. I think term limits should go to the ballot," Ruane said of letting the voters make the final decision if they were recommended, instead of city council.

He added that compensation and term limits go "hand in hand" in his opinion because paid versus volunteer positions would mean a "different level of service," as well as interested candidates.

Some of the committee members, and those in the audience, agreed with the correlation.

"There is a relationship between term limits and compensation," Committeewoman Kristie Anders said.

Council members in attendance spoke out in opposition of receiving a salary.

"I like the way our charter reads now," Councilman Chauncey Goss said.

Councilwoman Holly Smith explained that she wanted on council to serve her community.

"I will not be accepting any pay during my term," she said.

Following the comments, Pruss questioned the need to cover incidental expenses.

"I'm not sure there's a gap that needs to be filled," he said.

During public input, former Mayor Porter Goss spoke about drafting the city's first charter. He was selected in December as an ex-officio member for the committee, along with Charles LeBuff.

"Compensation and things like that were very clearly discussed when the charter took a position," he said, adding that such additions at this point "would be a dramatic change."

"The Sanibel charter is a model charter for the city of Sanibel, not for the state of Florida or any other city," Porter Goss said, explaining the council was created with the intention that the positions would be occupied by volunteers who would serve as representatives for the community.

He acknowledged though that its roles and responsibilities have changed over the years.

Planning commission

When the committee took up the section regarding the Sanibel Planning Commission, Schopp recommended setting term limits. He suggested a maximum of two successive three-year terms, with the current commissioners able to serve two full terms at the expiration of their current terms.

"I believe that planning commission members, who are not elected by the voters, should have term limits," Schopp said.

Some committee members and attending council members voiced disagreement.

"If we find this has worked for us and there isn't a compelling reason to change it, we should leave it alone," Johnson said.

Smith, a former planning commissioner, agreed.

"I would hesitate to say there should be some sort of limitation (on terms)," she said, adding that the city council should retain its authority over appointments to the commission. "I would encourage allowing council to make those decision based on the candidates."

Vice Chair and Committeeman Tim Garmager relayed that he could understand the rationale behind recommending term limits. He shared that he applied for the commission, underwent the interview and was denied. He said he was told an appointment will take forever and "you don't in on the first time."

"I think term limits might be something to make it more fair to the citizens," Garmager said.

Karen Storjohann, a sitting planning commissioner, responded to the current process during public input. She said she applied three times before receiving an appointment. She added that despite having been active at meetings for years beforehand, she was still unaware of some nuances once on board.

Storjohann suggested that those interested have an active presence by attending the meetings.

Councilman Jason Maughan argued against term limits on the basis of consistency.

"We don't care about it for council, but we care about it for our planning commissioners?" he asked.

At the end of the discussion, Schopp made a motion to recommend term limits for the planning commission using the suggestion he had outlined earlier. The motion failed without a second.

A 7-0 vote to recommend not changing the charter's language followed.

Also at the meeting, the issue of a strong mayor versus a weak mayor was raised.

"I think it works today," Ruane said of maintaining the status quo.

The committee voted 7-0 in agreement.

During a discussion on Article I and the powers of Sanibel, resident Dorothy Donaldson questioned whether the city should add language referencing marijuana to its control over the sale of alcohol.

Donaldson is serving as an alternate on the committee, along with Roger Triftshauser.

After some discussion, the committee decided the existing wording was enough.

A 7-0 vote passed to not recommend any changes to the section's language.

The remaining meeting dates for Charter Review Committee are Feb. 7, March 7, April 4, May 2, June 6 and June 27; the committee will meet at 1 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting are open to the public.

Once the city council has all of the committee's recommendations, it will vote on them.

Any changes to the charter must be provided to the Supervisor of Elections no later than November, which would result in a first and second reading at the council's September and October meetings.



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