Doral residents ask questions about proposed city charter changes

08/13/2014 2:28 PM

08/13/2014 2:50 PM

About 60 Doral residents packed into a local restaurant to ask questions about proposed amendments to the city charter at an information session held Tuesday night.

The charter, which is the city’s constitution, is up for review every five years. The City Council appointed a five-person Charter Review Commission to examine the document and propose changes.

The commission proposed 10 amendments to the charter that, if approved, would reduce the minimum amount of time residents would have to live in the city before running for office, increase council members’ salaries and change the rules for term limits, among other things.

The Doral Community Coalition and the Doral Family Journal, a community newspaper, hosted the information session at Charlie’s Bistro in the Costa del Sol development.

Reactions to the proposed changes were mixed, with residents questioning the need for some of the amendments.

It was unclear to some why there was a need to change the rules for setting the City Council’s meeting agendas. If approved, this amendment would require council members to submit agenda items one week before each meeting. All documents in support of the agenda item would have to be submitted four days before the meeting, and the only way an item could be added to the agenda at the last minute would be if it involved an emergency related to residents’ welfare.

Christian Mazzola, a Charter Review Commission member, explained that the change would ensure that citizens and council members are not blindsided by items that are sometimes introduced at the last minute to keep residents concerned about the issue from attending the council meeting or opposing what is being discussed.

Most of the residents were against raising council members’ salaries, especially after it was brought up that council members also receive a benefits package.

Stephen Musolino and Gabriel Rodriguez, both Doral residents for more than 10 years, had a lively debate about whether the council should be paid more.

Rodriguez said that whoever runs for a council seat or mayor should not make a career of the position. Musolino was in favor of a higher base pay for the council.

“Power is a temptation,” Musolino said. “This is an important city. Paying the council a little bit more might keep corruption out of Doral.”

Residents asked about the cost of forming committees to enforce the charter and to hire charter officers — the city manager, city attorney and city clerk.

Vice Mayor Christi Fraga assured residents that the committees are voluntary and usually do not have a budget. Jerome Reisman, a Charter Review Commission member, said there is a move in municipalities to create ethics committees to evaluate the conduct of elected officials and charter employees.

“This enforcement office will make the determination of whether the mayor or manager overstepped their boundaries,” Reisman said.

Residents also disagreed with shortening the residency requirement for council candidacy. Under the current charter, an individual must live in Doral for at least two years before he or she can run for a seat on the City Council. The amendment would reduce this requirement to six months.

The Charter Review Commission did not want to change the residency requirements but proposed the change because it learned of a U.S. Supreme Court case that set the maximum acceptable residency requirement for municipal government candidacy at six months. After living in Doral for six months, if a person wants to run for City Council and is denied, he or she could sue Doral because the current charter violates the Supreme Court decision.

Several residents asked how the city would know whether a person moved to Doral only because he or she wanted to become a council member. They were told to research who they were voting for.

Beverly Akerblom, who has lived in Doral since before the city was incorporated, asked why the change was proposed as an amendment when the residents really did not have a say in it.

Akerblom attended the information session to learn more about the proposed change in residency requirements and term limits. The proposed term-limits amendment would allow candidates to serve only two four-year terms in any position. The charter currently allows individuals to serve two consecutive terms as council member and two consecutive terms as mayor, for a total of 16 years.

Mazzola hopes this change will encourage more people to run for City Council.

Overall, residents said they felt more informed about the choices they will make when they go to the polls Aug. 26, the same day as the state and Miami-Dade County primary elections.

Resident Dalia Pallares said she was glad some of the Charter Review Commission members were present to explain the amendments.

“The explanations would not have been as clear without them here,” she said.

For more information

The Miami Herald has explained the proposed charter changes in articles you can find here and here.

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