Like in any other election, every vote counts when it comes to deciding the fate of changes to a city charter.
Tuesday’s results illustrated this in Doral, where voters approved five of 10 proposed amendments to the city’s governing document, including stronger term limits and creating a formal process for selecting the city’s top administrator. Five others failed, including one by merely 14 votes.
The proposals, prepared by a citizen commission with some of the city’s founders on it, faced an opposition campaign backed by Mayor Luigi Boria. The mayor has criticized the amendments and the commission, saying they were the “old guard” trying to take away the City Council’s power.
Some of the questions had very close votes, but no recounts are scheduled as of now.
Miami-Dade Chief Deputy Elections Supervisor Christina White said absentee ballots received Tuesday made the difference late into the evening.
“Once we did that the margin took it out of the recount territory,” she said Wednesday morning. “If the margin between selections, whether they are candidates or questions, is .5 or below, it automatically triggers a recount.”
With a very light turnout overall — about 2,000 voters — the differences were still in the hundreds.
On the question of stronger term limits, 55.36 percent of voters decided any individual can only serve two four-year terms in any elected office. The question was decided by 205 votes.
Other changes approved Tuesday night:• Formalizing a process for appointing and removing charter officials, like the city manager, city attorney and city clerk. The mayor had the power to nominate these positions before. Now, a citizen search committee would convene to recommend two to four names to the City Council, which has final approval. The amendment, which passed with 54.8 percent approval, also outlines minimum education and experience requirements for each job.
• Rotating the vice mayor position among City Council members. In Doral’s weak-mayor form of government, the mayor is essentially the chairman of the City Council, with one vote on the dais. The vice mayor runs meetings when the mayor cannot. With this change, approved by 55.68 percent of voters, the title will simply rotate among the council members instead of having them elect a vice mayor after each election.
• Setting a procedure for adding items to City Council agendas. Council members will now have to submit agenda items at least a week in advance of a council meeting. Any backup material for those items would have to be turned in to the city at least four days before. This amendment passed by the largest margin, with 61.24 percent voting yes.
• Creating office of charter enforcement. A new office will be created in Doral and be tasked with serving as a watchdog to keep City Hall honest. According to the amendment, it will field complaints, investigate and report findings on possible violations of federal, state, county and city laws. This change passed with 60.06 percent of the vote.
Five amendments failed Tuesday. Three were defeated by large margins, including raises for council members, lowering the residency requirement to run for office and reducing the number of signatures required for initiative and referendum petitions.
The last two failed by fewer than 100 votes. Just 14 votes killed a measure that would have changed Doral’s election process by eliminating runoff elections. Only 76 votes spelled the end of the amendment that would have spread the power to create citizen advisory boards and appoint members to the entire City Council. The mayor alone has this power, and his decisions are subject to council approval.
The advisory board amendment failed despite the recent revelation that several of the boards have repeatedly failed to meet quorum during the last two years and Boria has named relatives and supporters to these boards.
Doral resident Linda Washkewicz, 67, nearly went down the middle with her votes on the amendments. She didn’t favor getting rid of runoff elections because she worries a crowded field would lead to weaker candidates winning.
“I know runoffs cost a lot of money,” she said, “but if you have a bunch of people, then someone with maybe 20 percent of the vote can go onto win.”
Carlos Sanchez, 45, voted yes to all the changes because he feels they dilute the power of the mayor and council and empower residents.
“We have to take the power away from the council so the community has more of a say,” he said.
Every five years, the City Council appoints citizens to a Charter Review Commission to comb through the city’s governing document and suggest changes. This has happened twice now in the 11-year-old city. Those suggestions go straight to voters in the form of a ballot questions.