Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
City targets 'loophole' in charter

MARATHON -- The Marathon City Council is considering closing a loophole in the city's charter.

It remains to be seen whether a review committee comprised of citizens will meet and bring recommendations to the council or whether the council will tackle specific issues itself.

The council, at the urging of Councilwoman Ginger Snead, directed City Attorney John Herin on Nov. 26 to "address the loophole" and bring back research regarding options.

The most glaring problem seems to be a lack of repurcussions for council members who interfere with staff.

Section 5 of the charter states that, "except for the purposes of inquiry and information, the council and its members, including committees thereof, are expressly prohibited from interfering with the performance of the duties of any employee of the city government who is under the direct or indirect supervision of the city manager or city attorney."

Although interference complaints may be referred to the State Attorney's Office, the city can do nothing in terms of punishment because the charter, though defining interference as "malfeasance," offers no enforcement guidelines.

Since the city's incorporation, certain charter matters have been discussed and a change was made in 2006 to have council candidates run for at-large seats with the victory going to the top vote-getters, rather than candidates choosing individual seats and particular opponents.

Those in favor of the latest proposed charter change said council members should not be able to meddle in staff affairs.

"Interference most certainly has happened, and there have been no repercussions. I'm not really happy about that," said John Bartus, a former Marathon councilman and mayor. "Hopefully, the council will do what they need to do to be able to enforce the terms of the charter."

Mark Senmartin, the council's newest member, said he would like the city charter updated with more clarifications and better definitions. He complained that instead of going to the charter for accurate information, officials and others often have to go to staff for answers, but that "can be easily abused," he said.

Snead, however, said she did not support going over the charter line by line, nor did she think a charter review committee was necessary.

Consequently, the council agreed that interference was most important matter to address.

"Let's enforce the rules," Snead said. "Rules are only made for those who will follow them. Right now, we need repercussions in order to enforce our charter."

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