Elections

West Miami voters will have two charter amendments on their ballots

KRT

In the Nov. 6 general election, residents of the small city of West Miami will have two local questions on their ballots.

The commission of this town of about 8,000 people is asking voters to consider two proposed amendments to the city charter. The first one would change the way town leaders can use travel expenses. The second would end the requirement that the mayor sign certain official documents, such as contracts.

So far, no organized opposition to either measure has surfaced. Both ballot questions are fairly routine. Both the mayor and the city attorney, who attended public hearings on the amendments, said they aren’t aware of any organized opposition.

The first referendum would amend Article III, Section 3.04, which requires commissioners’ requests for travel expenses to be approved by a 4/5 vote of the five-member commission. Currently, the section states the expenses cannot be used “for attendance at seminars, conventions, dinners, for lobbying purposes or for other such uses.” The amendment would allow city money to be used for those purposes.

Mayor Eduardo Muhiña said when this same section was amended by referendum in 2014, the city — still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis — was not doing as well financially as it is now, so officials were conservative while drafting it. But city leaders now feel ready to allow this.

“We’re not as strict as we were before,” he said.

Muhiña said he thinks the process of making commissioners request money in an open forum ensures taxpayers’ money is spent effectively. He said an example of what the amendment would allow is sending commissioners to Tallahassee to lobby for the state to pay for a new local storm water system.

The second referendum asks voters if they want to change Article III, Section 3.08, which delineates the mayor’s responsibilities. If the referendum passes, the mayor will no longer have to sign contracts, deeds and other documents.

The original section was drafted when the city had a strong mayor — a mayor who is also the city’s chief administrator, Muhiña said. The charter still requires the mayor to do those tasks even though the city stopped having a strong mayor in the ‘80s.

Muhiña said he proposed the change after he requested a personal loan and the bank inquired about all of the previous loans he had signed in the name of the city. The issue was resolved when the city attorney spoke to the bank, he said.

“To me that’s a housekeeping item that should not be overlooked,” he said.

Muhiña said he will send a letter to residents next week explaining the local ballot questions and asking residents to vote.

With 12 state constitutional amendments and many other ballot questions and candidates, “the ballot is overwhelming this time. It’s eight pages,” he said. “I just want to encourage them to vote. I’m not influencing anyone.”

The city charter is a document that defines the municipality’s government structure, similar to how a constitution defines a state’s government. West Miami’s charter requires the municipality’s Charter Review Board to scrutinize the document every four years.

“The board will meet to discuss the charter from A to Z, from section 1 to the end, read it and discuss it and come out with recommendations or come out saying ‘we’re happy with what we have,’ ” said city attorney Jose Villalobos.

Per the charter, the 10-member board consists of the mayor, the four city commissioners and five members appointed by the commissioners.

“Typically, [the appointed members] seek us because they have interest in participating,” Muhiña said.

The most recent board, created in April 2016, met about eight times before it proposed the two charter amendments, Villalobos said.

Here are the proposed amendments to the charter.

Referendum 1

What it looks like now:

The Council may, at a regularly called meeting and by a four-fifths (4/5) affirmative vote, approve additional expenses for Council members for travel and/or per diem expenses within the State of Florida, provided, however, such travel and per diem expenses are for the direct benefit and/or direct city business. It is not the intent hereby to permit payment of expenses and/or per diem expenses for travel for attendance at seminars, conventions, dinners, for lobbying purposes or for other such uses. Expenses for travel and/or per diem expenses shall be limited to that as is provided for within the Statutes of the State of Florida.

What it will look like if the referendum passes:

The Council may, at a regularly called meeting and by 4/5 affirmative vote, approve all additional expenses for Commission members to travel and per diem expenses which are for the direct benefit of the City or City business, for attendance at seminars and conventions, advocating and dinners at League of Cities or other similar events. Expenses and per diems shall be limited as provided by Florida Statutes.

Referendum 2

What it looks like now:

The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council, shall be recognized as head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes, by the Governor for purposes of military law, for service of process, execution of contracts, deeds and other documents, and as the City official designated to represent the City in all agreements with other governmental entities or certifications to other governmental entities, but shall have no administrative duties except as required to carry out the responsibilities herein.

What it will look like if the referendum passes:

The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Commission and be recognized as head of the City for ceremonial purposes, by the Governor for purposes of military law, service of process, as the City official designated to represent the City in all agreements and certifications with other governmental entities, but shall have no administrative duties reserved for the City Manager, except as required to carry out the responsibilities herein.

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