Every 10 years, Miami Beach is required to review its charter. Changes can be made, but only with voters’ approval.
After scouring the charter for more than a year, a special review board and commissioners came up with four charter-amendment questions for the Aug. 26 primary ballot. Here’s what voters will be asked to amend in their governing document:
QUESTION 1: The most controversial charter question has to do with closing a term-limit loophole. Currently, the charter prohibits Miami Beach elected officials from serving more than eight years as a commissioner or six years as mayor. But the term limits apply only to consecutive terms.
As a result, a politician can alternately serve as mayor or commissioner without facing term-limits, as the charter allows him or her to simply seek a different position to void the restriction after one election cycle.
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This loophole became an issue in last November’s election, when then-Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, who was term-limited as mayor, ran for a seat on the commission. She lost, but the charter-review committee is asking voters to end the practice. This is a needed amendment. The intent of term limits should not be circumvented or watered down.
QUESTION 2: This question aims to update archaic election practices. Voters can extend the time the commission has to select a vice mayor in the days after a general election.
According to the city charter, commissioners must choose a vice mayor within three days after an election. But that timing has become impractical because the Miami-Dade Elections Department now takes longer to certify elections, forcing Miami Beach commissioners to pick a vice mayor way too soon and before all victors are certified.
Selecting a vice mayor before the ballots boxes are put away might have seemed expedient once, but now the practice might be overrun by balloting realities.
QUESTION 3: This question is largely clerical. It’s a request from the elections department related to “vacancy in candidacy.” As a cost-cutting measure to avoid putting on special elections, Miami Beach voters can extend the qualifying period from 24 days to 45 days. That sounds reasonable.
QUESTION 4: The final charter question would give the Miami Beach Historic Preservation and Design Review boards the power to grant variances — in other words, streamline the process for developers.
The Historic Preservation Board is tasked with reviewing certain developments to make sure they meet preservation rules, while the Design Review Board is responsible for making sure certain developments meet established design guidelines.
Developers need to get a variance if their proposal falls outside of the established criteria.
Currently, the Board of Adjustment grants variances. Even if a project gets approval from the Historic Preservation and Design Review boards, the proposal still needs to go to the Board of Adjustment to get a variance.
The charter amendment would eliminate the need to go to the Board of Adjustment for a variance — but only if a project has already received the approval of another board. The Board of Adjustment would still hear appeals of administrative decisions and grant variances for projects that are not heard by other boards.
The Miami Herald recommends that Miami Beach residents vote YES on all four charter amendments.