Coral Gables

Coral Gables considering city charter election changes

A supporter of Mayor Jim Cason sets a campaign poster next to the other candidates outside of the Coral Gables Congregational Church during the 2015 election. The city is considering charter changes including the creation of runoff elections.
A supporter of Mayor Jim Cason sets a campaign poster next to the other candidates outside of the Coral Gables Congregational Church during the 2015 election. The city is considering charter changes including the creation of runoff elections. El Nuevo Herald File

The Coral Gables commission discussed proposed changes to the city’s charter after recommendations from the charter review committee were presented at Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioners agreed to have a workshop and public discussion on seven proposed changes and additions to the city charter at 5:01 p.m. following the regular April 12 commission meeting at City Hall. Some of the proposed changes establish procedures for replacing commissioners who fall ill or die in office and for bringing runoff elections to the city.

The city will have to determine when the charter items will be put on the ballot, via referendum, for voters to make a decision. The choices include a special election, placing it on the Aug. 30 or Nov. 8 ballots or issuing the referendum through a mail-out ballot.

The runoff election proposal would have Coral Gables match the process that happens in several municipalities including Miami and Miami Beach, where a candidate has to receive more than 50 percent of the vote to win their race. If they don’t obtain that majority, then a runoff election takes place.

Members of the commission seemed to be supportive of the idea but also expressed some concerns about turnout for the proposed runoff if the regular election doesn’t have much participation. About 25 percent of registered voters participated in the 2015 election.

“My biggest concern about the runoff is voter fatigue,” Vice Mayor Frank Quesada said. “My concern is that voter turnout is going to go from 20 to 30 percent down to 10 or 15 percent.”

Other changes include a provision that would allow the city commission to fill a vacancy if a commissioner dies while in office or cannot serve due to a serious injury or ailment. The substitute would complete the remainder of that official’s term.

“The unfortunate incident that somebody has a stroke or paralysis and can’t participate, that person should be removed and given the opportunity to leave the seat to someone who can participate,” said former Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli, who chairs the charter review committee.

Some of the proposals include a change that would weaken the commission’s ability to call for a staff member to be removed by the city manager and designates the appointment of an external financial auditor.

The next step for the commission is to determine whether some or all of the items will be placed on the ballot and when that vote will take place. Some commissioners seemed supportive of placing the charter items on a mail-out ballot to allow voters time to fully examine the proposals.

“That way you have more legitimacy. Nobody can say, ‘Well, I couldn’t make it that day,’ ” Mayor Jim Cason said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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