SEBASTIAN, Florida — When Sebastian, Florida voters go to the polls in November, they’ll be doing so much more than deciding who will lead city - they’ll be determining for how long those leaders shall be in office.
The City Council currently serves 2-year terms as set by the City’s Charter. The Charter sets out the rules by which the City operates.
For the last several months, the Charter Review Committee has been debating the rules and crafting potential changes to better serve the City. One such rule they’ve crafted is to extend Council terms from two years to four.
It’s a question that has been posed to voters in the past and been turned down. The last time was in 2011 - an off-year election - that saw a voter turnout of about 10 percent.
Charter Review Committee Chair Fred Jones presented the committee’s rationale to the City Council Wednesday night. The switch to 4-year terms would serve two purposes: eliminate costly off-year elections and provide Council members more time to serve and learn before having to campaign again to retain their seat.
It costs the City approximately $35,000 to have elections in odd-numbered years. When the City’s elections coincide with County elections, the cost drops to about $9,000.
Jones also said that off-year elections garner “less than satisfactory” participation.
The Sebastian City Council agreed to put the matter to the voters and approved moving the question to the November ballot.
The Council was also asked to modify the compensation package the Mayor and Council receive per the Charter. The Charter Review Committee has recommended essentially doubling the monthly salary of the Council and increasing the Mayor’s salary by $300 - but also suggested the Council eliminate its expense account. Doing so would not have a net impact on the monthly salary, in theory. However, Council members and the Mayor would still be able to submit eligible receipts for reimbursement.
As it is, the Mayor receives $450 a month plus an expense account, and Council members receive $300 a month plus their expense account.
If the voters approve the ballot measure, the Mayor would receive $750 a month and Council would receive $600 - but no expense accounts.
The expense account is not written into the Charter and would require a vote from the Council to rescind it.
City Attorney Robert Ginsburg told the Council that the ballot and Charter language would be written in a way to address the elimination of the expense accounts.
Other matters that were brought forward for consideration included either adding a 1-year term provision for the Mayor or eliminating the 1-year term provision for the Vice Mayor in an attempt to make it equitable.
With Councilman Jim Hill’s absence, the motion to remove the 1-year Vice Mayor term paragraph from the Charter failed in a tie. Vice Mayor Jerome Adams and Councilman Richard Gillmor voted against the provision’s removal.
Adams attempted to add a ballot measure that would require a supermajority vote to remove the Mayor. The measure failed in a 2-2 tie, with Mayor Bob McPartlan and Councilwoman Andrea Coy voting against it.
The Council also briefly entertained the idea of changing the titles of Mayor and Vice Mayor to Chair and Vice Chair, respectively.
Mayor McPartlan told the Council that perhaps the title of Mayor gives the public and person at that post the wrong impression of what power that person actually has. Ultimately, only McPartlan voted in support of the measure.
While there is still time for the Council to add other items to the ballot, City Attorney Ginsburg has been tasked to write up the Charter language and ballot questions pertaining to the Council term lengths and their salaries.
That language is expected to go back to the Sebastian Council at a future meeting.