The Mount Dora City Charter – The Silent Candidate (part 1)

The Mount Dora Citizen will publish upcoming columns about proposed amendments to the Mount Dora City Charter. Ballot language and information from the 2015 Charter Review Committee as accepted by the City Council will be provided. Voters will determine whether all, some, or none of the amendments will be adopted and incorporated in the charter.

*Disclosure – Both the Mount Dora Citizen editor, Melissa DeMarco and writer, Joe Runnels were members of the City of Mount Dora’s 2015 Charter Review Committee. The Mount Dora Citizen did not come into being until approximately 3 months after the Charter Review Committee was disbanded.*

The city charter of Mount Dora is the document that provides the framework for how the city government should operate. It is, essentially, the Constitution of the City of Mount Dora. Divided into six parts, the seven-page document relates how the local government operates and how council, city manager and residents participate in the process.  (Link: Mount Dora City Charter)

Originally adopted in 1910, the document has evolved slowly as times changed and/or residents of the city demanded revisions and corrections. The charter, itself, mandates that this guiding document be reviewed at least every five years. It may be done sooner.

That was the case last year when the statistically improbable happened. The City Council At-Large race between Nick Girone and Marie Rich ended in a tie. After recounts, the race remained a deadlock. Some felt the exact wording of the city charter was unclear as to what to do in this instance, and chaos ensued.

The Mount Dora City Council interpreted the charter as dictating that tied races would be settled in Mount Dora as they are in most municipalities in Florida – by the drawing of lots. That may mean methods as varied as drawing straws, playing cards, printed envelopes or numbered pingpong balls to determine an election winner.

Fourteen citizens, represented by Attorney James Homich, filed an “emergency motion for temporary injunction,” essentially claiming that the drawing of lots to determine a winner would violate the City’s Charter.  The temporary injunction became a moot issue when Circuit Judge Mark Nacke eventually agreed with the City Council’s decision to move forward with the drawing of lots.  The election was settled when Marie Rich’s name was drawn from a hat.

As a result of the confusion and disagreement associated with the city’s charter language, the Mount Dora City Council decided to convene a Charter Review Committee (CRC) in 2015, a year ahead of the charter’s required timeframe for review.  Like all citizen advisory boards and committees, the CRC is made up of seven members – one member assigned by each member of the city council.

Also, like other committees, the CRC falls under the constraints of Florida laws pertaining to government in the sunshine and open public records.  Once the recommendations of the committee are received and accepted by city council, the CRC members can then be officially relieved of their responsibilities,  and the associated constraints.

City council members have the option to accept or dismiss all of the recommendations made to them by the committee.  The 2015 CRC made six recommendations:

– One recommendation is to correct a typographical error.

– One recommendation deals with “permanent” residency of representatives on council.

– One recommendation is procedural.

– One recommendation is to reduce the number of council members.

– One recommendation is to increase the term of those council members.

– And, finally, there is a recommendation to clarify the language in the charter dealing with tied elections.

The Mount Dora City Council chose to forward all of the CRC’s recommendations on to the Supervisor of Elections so voters could determine the result.  See upcoming issues for details.

Joe Runnels, writer (