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Belleair Bee
Committee begins work on city charter
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Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Members of IRB’s Charter Review Committee include, front row, from left, chairman Wally Clark and vice-chair Betsy McKenna; and, back row, Melissa Dotson, Larry King and Marybeth Dunn.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The five members of the city of Indian Rocks Beach’s Charter Review Committee met for the first time Feb. 26. They introduced themselves, shook hands and got down to work. Theirs is a six-month task and depending on what they discover, it could be a tough one.

The newly appointed chairman of the committee, Wally Clark, said he hopes the job will be finished long before the six-month deadline.

“There are items in this charter that we won’t be able to touch, items that are mandated by Florida law,” he said. “So we might be able to go through half a dozen pages in one meeting.”

That would be a significant amount given that the charter is only 28 pages long. The city charter is what drives the city. It outlines how commissions are elected and boards are appointed. It dictates how the city manager is hired and when things have to happen. And it cannot be changed except by referendum; thus the deadline for this committee.

Committee member Larry King was concerned that their July 31st deadline would leave enough time for whatever recommendations they make to be examined by the City Commission and then prepared for inclusion in the November election. Clark assured him it would be enough time.

“I expect we will be finished long before that deadline,” he said.

Under the charter, Indian Rocks Beach must have a review committee every five to 10 years. It has been 10 years since the last committee was formed, and Clark was part of that.

Clark, who is an attorney, has served on several city boards since he became a permanent resident of the city in 1990.

The vice chair of the committee is Betsy McKenna, who has been a resident of Indian Rocks Beach since 1984. She, too, has served on several city boards.

Larry King, also an attorney, has been a resident of the city since 1998 and is winding down his Georgia law practice.

Melissa Dotson has been a resident of IRB for three years and said she is involved in the committee because of her love for the city, the first one where she and her husband have laid down roots.

The fifth committee member is Marybeth Dunn, who has lived in IRB for more than four years. She runs a nonprofit business in the city.

City Manager Gregg Mims opened the inaugural meeting by reminding the committee they were under the rule of Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

“That means if you have discussed an item in the charter that you might want to change, you can’t go home and call one another and discuss it. You must do it here in an open, public meeting,” he said.

King added that the Sunshine Law also applied to electronic communications, such as emailing, or Facebook or iPads.

Clark said any communication or questions outside public meetings could be done through the city manager.

Mims also cautioned the committee members how to deal with members of the public who may want to have something to say about the charter.

“As I caution our elected officials, you listen to what people have to say but do not get baited into an argument with them,” he said.

Clark added that residents needed to know that the committee was just an advisory committee. It does not exist to change the charter, just to make recommendations to the City Commission.

“The residents will have a chance to have their say when our recommendations go to the Commission,” he said. “It is there they can agree or object and the commission will be in a position to respond to them.”

Clark also pointed out that the city attorney will not be at the committee meetings.

“We want to be able to suggest changes to the charter without getting bogged down about correct wording and the like. That can all happen once our recommendations get to the commission,” he said.

After the meeting Clark said nothing in the charter has popped out at him as something that needs to be changed.

“There is nothing dysfunctional that I have noticed,” he said. “We will all have our opinions and there will be plenty of discussion.”

Once the commissioners get the committee’s recommendations they can agree with them, reject some or all of them, or change them. But any changes to the charter itself must be approved by referendum, each one separately. So if there are five suggested changes to the charter, there will be five separate questions on the November ballot.

The Charter Review Committee will meet in the City Hall Auditorium at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
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