MADEIRA BEACH — The most significant amendment to the city charter being proposed to voters for approval in November has been pulled from the ballot. The amendment, if approved, would have changed the current citywide vote of all residents for all commissioners to residents of each district voting for their commissioner only.
The proposed charter amendments were up for a second reading at the July 8 commission meeting. All had passed on first reading last month, so it was a surprise when one of them, the district voting for commissioners, failed this time. With that issue off the ballot, the current method of voting citywide for commissioners will not change.
Remaining on the ballot is an amendment that would increase the current term of commissioners from two years to three, and lengthen the mayor’s term from three years to four. Also, there is an amendment that would shorten the qualifying period to run for election from four weeks to two, and another specifying that tie votes in an election will be decided by drawing lots rather than having a recount.
The decision on the district voting issue failed in a 2-2 vote. Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price and Mayor John Hendricks were in favor of putting the issue on the ballot, while Commissioners Nancy Hodges and Doug Andrews were opposed. Commissioner John Douthirt was absent.
Andrews gave several reasons for opposing the issue, one being “voter suppression.” He pointed out there will be times when some residents will not be able to vote in the municipal election because their district commissioner is not up for election. Also, he said commissioners should be representing the whole city, not just their district.
“I think we’ve got to do what’s best for the city, and in a city this small, voting in districts I think is going to hurt us in the long run,” said Andrews.
Price took the opposite view.
“I want to be put into office by people who call me from my own area and get with me and make suggestions, and I would like to cater to my own district.” She said she would make the best decision for the whole city, but she would like to represent her own district, “just like every state in the union has senators and representatives that just represent their area.”
Resident Robert Preston said, “I just don’t see anything at this point that sends up a red flag that says we have to make this change.”
Fines for littering
The commission passed an ordinance setting fines for littering, which has become a major concern in the city. Violators will pay $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second and subsequent offenses.
There is currently no penalty for littering, City Attorney Thomas Trask said.
Hendricks said he sees the big fines as a deterrent, and believes doubling the fine to $500 for repeat violators will be especially effective.
“If they didn’t learn (not to litter) the first time, they will the second time,” he said.
Audrey Cevaer of Trash Pirates, a group of citizens active in picking up trash in the city, said the fines have that group’s “complete support.”
The commission voted unanimously for the ordinance. It is expected to take effect after the second reading in August, at which time the city will post signs on the beach and at motels and short-term rentals so people will be aware of the fines for littering.
Attorney Trask to stay on
Trask, who has been serving as interim attorney since the departure of Ralf Brooks earlier this year, will continue on. The commission decided not to go out for bids for an attorney, and keep Trask.
Price said Trask had done a great job, “and is deep into fixing things that needed to be fixed.”
“He listens and guides us well,” she said.
Trask said his contract with the city is exactly the same as Brooks’, the same hourly rate and retainer. He will serve on a month-to-month basis “until you no longer want me here.” Trask is well known in Madeira Beach, having been its city attorney several times within the past 20 years.
A motion to forego getting bids for the city attorney position passed 3-1. Commissioners Andrews, Hodges and Price voted yes. Hendricks was opposed.
In a later comment, Hendricks said he likes Trask, but believes the commission should consider other attorneys as well.
“We need to go out for bids and see what’s out there,” Hendricks said.