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Term-limits proposal in North Miami Beach charter revamp plan raises debate

North Miami Beach council members got a glimpse of the proposed revisions for an updated city charter that raised some debate .

City Attorney Jose Smith said the current charter, which was put in place by voters in 1958, is outdated and puts North Miami Beach at risk. For example, a section of the charter gives the city council authority to license firearms even though they are preempted by Florida’s statutes from doing so. The current 40-plus pages of the charter would be nearly half the size in its revised form if the council decided to adopt many of the changes.

“Many of the powers that are set forth in your charter are either unconstitutional, preempted by state law or could expose you to legal liability if you tried to enforce it,” Smith said.

Top on the list of objections was the proposal to change the term limits of officials serving staggered four-year terms for mayor and council positions. The proposed change would allow officials to serve two four-year terms for each office. In effect, this would allow a council member to possibly serve eight years on the council and be eligible to run for two consecutive four-year terms as Mayor after that.

Councilwoman Beth Spiegel said she was “extremely irritated” that the city attorney and staff did not meet with city council members before drafting the proposal. At a special workshop on Tuesday night, Spiegel repeated more than a dozen times her “problems” with the draft, including a proposal she said would allow the mayor to appoint or create committees. At times, the discussion was terse and emotional.

“You do realize that in the comments that you made are subject to the confirmation by the city council, so it is not a power being granted to the mayor,” Mayor George Vallejo said.

“Yeah, English is my first language,” Spiegel said.

“It is mine as well,” Vallejo responded.

Smith pointed out that some of Spiegel’s concerns included what was in the current charter. However, Spiegel got support from council members Phyllis Smith and Frantz Pierre, who also did not support the term-limit proposal.

Councilwoman Barbara Kramer could barely contain her frustration when she questioned Smith’s and Pierre’s motives.

“I find it too ironic that two of my colleagues (Smith and Pierre) think that eight years is enough and if you win the next election, you’ll be here 12 years,” Kramer said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Pierre and Smith have served as council members since 2007. Smith already has filed her intention to run for another term in the May 5 election. Qualifying to run for office is from March 23-28.

Pierre spent time quizzing Smith about what it would take to change the charter through a petition process. At one point, Pierre asked whether it would be “viable for a person circulating a petition” to get advice from Smith.

“That would not be proper activity on the behalf of a city attorney. I don’t mind meeting with someone who wants to circulate a petition but I’m not going to give legal advice to a private citizen for how to engage in a petition process,” Smith said.

Council members Marlen Martell and Anthony DeFillipo strongly supported the new proposed term limits, citing confidence in the electorate to choose their own officials. Martel said longer term limits makes sense for small cities.

“We have a city with 43,000 residents and out of those only 3,000 vote. So who’s really interested in coming up here and doing this,” Martell said.

Several public workshops will be planned for a later date to discuss term limits and other issues.

In other news, City Clerk Pamela Latimore was sworn in as director of the Southeast District for the Florida Association of City Clerks (FACC). Latimore, an appointee, said the position “won’t hinder but only enhance” her current duties.

The council also heard about two forthcoming code amendments that aim to minimize future zoning conflicts. The first amendment would change the way walls are measured to avoid oversized walls, gates and fences that are incompatible with surrounding homes. The second amendment would allow flat roofs on homes without a variance as long as they didn’t include a terrace. Last February, residents in the gated Eastern Shores neighborhood objected to a proposed multimillion-dollar home with a rooftop terrace because they feared the new owners would be tempted to have noisy parties on the roof.

The next city council meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.

Volunteer cleanup

A volunteer cleanup day is scheduled at Highland Village, 13651 NE 21 Ave., 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Check in will be from 7 to 8 a.m. For more information, call Candido Sosa-Cruz at 305-948-2964. The event will include landscaping, painting, graffiti removal, tree trimming, painting and trash pickup.

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