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Ocoee Charter Amendments

March 19 Ballot

Not sure what they mean? We've got answers.*  

Question 1: Section § C-8 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to provide that the City of Ocoee's powers be liberally construed in favor of the city to effect their intended purposes.

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When the amendments were first presented to the commission on August 1, 2023, Ocoee City Attorney Rick Geller explained that liberal has no political significance in this context. In the amendment, the word liberal is is being used to mean "broad," "expansive." At the time, he explained that cities, like Windermere, Apopka and Winter Garden had charters that stated that all municipal powers were to be "construed liberally," and limited only by Florida Statute and the U.S. Constitution while Ocoee's stated that only the powers listed in the charter were to be "construed liberally." 

 “The suggestion here is that you construe all the powers of the city to effect their intended purposes, and that’s what this language is attempting to do,” Geller said.

Question 2: Section § C-8 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to provide that the City's enumerated powers shall include the right to acquire or dispose of property, including real property, by exchange.

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The key addition here is the word exchange. Geller explained that municipalities often exchange properties, for instance to secure a right of way. As another example, Winter Garden is working with Orange County Public Schools on a land swap in order to find an alternative location for the district's proposed school bus depot.  

Question 3: Section § C-11 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to provide that candidates for mayor shall reside in the City of Ocoee for at least one (1) year before qualifying as a candidate and to require candidates for city commissioner to reside in the district they seek to represent for at least one (1) year before qualifying as a candidate; candidates shall provide such proof of residency as may be prescribed by ordinance.

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Of course, you know what a one-year residency requirement for candidates is. What's key is that neighboring cities like Windermere, Apopka and Winter Garden all have one-year residency requirements in their charters while Ocoee does not. The charter only states that a candidate must be a bona fide resident of Ocoee with no additional guidelines for how "resident" is defined.

 

This became an issue in the 2023 election, when a candidate from Orlando rented an apartment in District 3 and challenged Commissioner Richard Firstner for his seat. He won in a landslide, but the Orlando candidate's campaign showed that merely being a "resident of Ocoee" wasn't strong enough charter language to ensure that actual Ocoee residents would be elected to office.  

The required proof of residency includes a government-issued photo ID card, voter ID card and a deed, lease, utility bill or "other clear, convincing documentary proof."

The Charter Review Commission drafted this amendment "to preserve and protect the integrity of elections in the city of Ocoee," Geller said in August.

Question 4: Section § C-11 of the City of Ocoee Charter,  shall be amended to provide that each candidate for mayor and city commissioner shall consent to a background check to verify the candidate’s qualifications to hold office; and providing that no candidate shall be barred from running for office without notice, a hearing, and clear and convincing evidence that the candidate is not qualified to hold office.

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The addition of a background check for candidates stems from the same 2023 election when a candidate with a felony record and a resume that fell apart under fact checking ran for the open seat in District 1.

Question 5: Section § C-16 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to provide that the salaries of the mayor, mayor pro tem, and commissioners shall be commensurate with the part-time nature of the duties of the office.

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Occasionally the idea to make commissioners' jobs full-time rather than part-time — with a salary to match – gets floated. It came up during the 2023 mayoral forum, and the idea is part of former Commissioner George Oliver III's platform as he runs to retake his seat in District 4. The concept of full-time commissioners rarely get traction, even though serving on the commission requires a big time commitment and pays just $4,000. That's because most commissioners view the gig as public service not a job. That may have a limiting effect on who can afford to run and serve on the commission. State Rep. Bruce Antone, who represents parts of Ocoee, made that point last year when he was advocating for a salary study of Florida legislators (also considered part time) that raising salaries would allow for candidates to come from a wider pool. 

Question 6: Section § C-17 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to provide that the successor to the office of mayor or city commissioner shall be elected at the next regular or general city election, if held within twelve (12) months of the vacancy.

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Geller described this amendment as "cleaning up some language in the charter," when he explained it during the Aug. 1 commission meeting. Language was included to clarify that in the event of a vacancy on the commission, an interim commissioner would be appointed within 30 days, and that this interim commissioner would serve until the next regular or general city election was held.

 

Language was included to specify that successors can be elected during regular and general elections — those are defined further down in Question 10 — and when elections need to be called for a new slate of commissioners in the event that the governor disbands the entire commission and installs an interim commission. The time frame there is 90 days. But Geller assured, "That's very rare. That's never going to happen."

Question 7: Section § C- 18 of the City of Ocoee' s Charter shall be amended to authorize the City Commission to designate an accountant or accounting firm in accordance with the procedures set forth in Florida Statutes § 218.391 annually or for a period not to exceed five ( 5) years.

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This amendment is about the city's annual audit. The charter currently allows the city to work with an accounting firm for up to three years. Geller explained that the city's budget director and the Charter Review Committee thought that time frame could be extended to five years. Under Florida Statutes 218.391, the commission establishes an Auditor Selection Committee with specific parameters to evaluate, recommend and select the firm to conduct the annual audit. 

Geller advised against having ongoing contracts with a single firm, but to have "some kind of outer limit for when the selection of auditor will happen again." But he said that extending that time frame from three years to five isn't a problem because having "this auditor selection committee makes it highly unlikely that you will have any collusion or fraud." 

Question 8: Section § C-21 of the City of Ocoee' s Charter shall be amended to authorize the City Commission to reasonably extend the requirement for the City Manager to reside in the City of Ocoee within one (1) year of beginning employment upon the Commission' s unanimous approval.

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Geller said the Charter Review Commission felt strongly that the city manager should live in Ocoee, but that the commission should have some flexibility to extend the grace period past the one year deadline "for a very good reason." He pointed to a child who needs to finish high school in their school district as an example.  

Question 9: Section § C-28 of the City of Ocoee' s Charter shall be amended to clarify that the city manager shall determine the city clerk' s salary, subject to budget approval by the city commission.

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This amendment simply codifies "existing practice," Geller said. He explained that the city clerk's salary does not come before the commission for a separate vote but is part of the general budget. "That's what this [amendment] intends to recognize," Geller said. 

Question 10: Section § C-45 of the City of Ocoee' s Charter shall be amended to define "regular elections" as those held at regular intervals for the election of mayor and city commissioner; "special elections" as those held to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor or city commissioner, for a citizen initiative to approve of an ordinance, or a referendum to repeal an ordinance; and "general elections" as any other municipal election.

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Since questions about what determines a general election, a regular election and special election were the impetus for establishing the Charter Review Commission and postponing the special election to elect the commissioner for the vacant District 4 seat, from June 13, 2023 until March 19, 2024, Geller said the Charter Review Commission wanted to make those distinctions and definitions "crystal clear."  

Question 11: Section § C-45 of the City of Ocoee' s Charter shall be amended to provide that any person elected to the office of mayor or city commissioner shall be sworn into office immediately prior to commencement of the next regularly scheduled city commission meeting held after the Canvassing Board declares the election results.

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The current charter mandates that commission members be sworn in at 7 p.m. at the next city commission meeting after the election. However, city commission meetings begin at 6:15 p.m., which has led to a "changing of the guard" mid-meeting. "It does not make sense to wait for the swearing in for 45 mintutes into the meeting," Geller said. He said this amendment is "to fix an anachronism within the charter." 

Question 12: Section § C-49 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to authorize the city commission to set the dates of elections and dates of qualifying periods for candidates by either resolution or ordinance.

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Geller said the charter isn't clear on whether the commission can set election dates and qualifying period dates through both ordinances and resolutions so this amendment would grant the commission the flexibility to do both. A resolution can be adopted on a single vote of the commission while an ordinance requires two readings at a least one public comment period before becoming a law.  

Question 13: Section § C-50 of the City of Ocoee's Charter shall be amended to appoint the city clerk to the City of Ocoee' s Election Canvassing Board in addition to two (2) citizens and two (2) citizen alternates appointed by the city commission.

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Geller noted that Winter Garden, Windermere and Apopka's city clerks were all members of their municipal election canvassing boards. At the moment Ocoee's city clerk is not on the canvassing board and Geller said, "there are pragmatic and practical reasons why she should be on the canvassing board because she is the coordinator of elections for the city of Ocoee and it's important that she be there when the canvassing takes place." Because one of the three citizen positions was eliminated to allow for the city clerk's position on the board, the Charter Review Commission created two alternate positions for citizens. 

* For more background and a complete markup of amendments with all additions and deletions, click here.

— Norine Dworkin

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