What do Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Polk counties have that Manatee County lacks? We lack the charter form of county government (sometimes called Home Rule).
Our surrounding counties and 16 others have adopted charter, which provides more options for a smarter, more responsive county government, and allows a county to custom-fit its structure and functions to changing needs and preferences. The most populous Florida counties have led this transition. The 20 counties that have made the switch to charter represent 75% of the state’s population. However, even some small counties have converted to charter government. For example, Wakulla County (population 30,877) adopted a charter in 2008.
The constitutional form of county government developed when Florida was still mostly rural and counties were considered to be subdivisions of the state, with specific powers and duties conferred by the state. Charter government, also called “home rule,” was first allowed statewide in 1968.
Manatee County has the constitutional form of county government—the default option under state law. However, charters are not unknown in our county. All of our cities are charter governments.
The differences in the two systems are significant. In the constitutional form, a county only has the powers specifically granted by the state. Under charter, a county has all powers of self-government except those that are pre-empted or prohibited by the state. As a county grows, becomes more complex, and is delegated more responsibilities by the state and federal governments, the options under a charter provide greater flexibility and permit changes that make it more effective and economical to operate.
Charter government provides much more flexibility. What are some examples of options that would be available for our county under charter government?
- The number of commissioners
- The length of terms of office
- Creation of at-large or single member districts
- Partisan or nonpartisan elections
- Constitutional officers, e.g., tax collector, property appraiser, clerk of court, etc, could be appointed positions rather than elected ones.
- Some currently appointed positions, e.g., county administrator, could be made elected positions.
Charter government also has more opportunities for citizen involvement and referenda. What are some of these opportunities?
- Citizens, as well as the county, may propose charter amendments for a referendum vote
- Citizens may recall elected officials.
Other available charter provisions. Many charters include a citizen’s bill of rights, significant county policies, or an ethics code for government officials. Charter counties seem to be well-satisfied with their decision to adopt. While most of them have amended specific provisions of their charters, none has repealed it altogether and gone back to the older form of government.
If Manatee votes for a charter government, what happens next?
The development of a county charter begins with the appointment of a Charter Commission. Citizens may also start the process through petition. The public is very involved throughout. County charters are adopted, repealed or amended only by a vote of the electorate. While county charters vary greatly in length and content, one thing they all have in common is that they reflect the unique history and outlook of their local communities.
How can we get a charter? Please encourage our County Commissioners to request the change from the state. If that fails, citizens of our county can initiate an effort by petitioning the state to have this issue placed on the ballot.
To get things started:
1. Write your county commissioners indicating your support of charter government. Click here for commissioner emails.
2. Sign a petition. Click Here for the petition. Then please fill out the petition, sign it, and mail it to:
League of Women Voters of Manatee County, P.O. Box 545, Bradenton, FL 34206.
Please encourage your family members and friends to join in this effort. Help us achieve a better way of government!
To see and hear more, follow this link for the League of Women Voters Hot Topics presentation on Charter Government on March 15, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78hrcwfmf_o