Thursday, April 4, 2013

Restoring Democracy in Belle Isle [UPDATE]

If you read my summary of the April 2 City Council meeting, you already know that Belle Isle resident Dr. Stuart Bernstein proposed a City ordinance which would require publication by mail of the qualification deadlines for our Belle Isle elected officials, including the Mayor and Commissioners. Dr. Bernstein's proposed ordinance is based on Orlando ordinances 21.06 and 21.08, linked below. You can see the complete text of Dr. Bernstein's proposed ordinance in his open letter:

Dr. Stuart Bernstein Open Letter - April 2, 2013

Orlando Ordinances 21.06 & 21.08

Commissioner Harvey Readey has already voiced his support for such an ordinance. We will need to get more Commissioners on board in order to get this proposal in front of the Council and passed, a process that could be made more difficult if the Mayor attempts to block public hearing on the matter.

As we move forward with Dr. Bernstein's proposal, I think it makes sense to also address a related issue raised by Commissioner Readey, who stated that "only three (I was elected) of the seven Commissioners now serving  were elected. The rest were recommended by the Mayor and approved by the Council majority vote as currently required by our City Charter. I have attempted to change the charter so that when a Commissioner resigns before their term has ended we hold a special election for replacement unless we are within 6 months of the end of the 3 years term. The Mayor and most of the Council have rejected this proposal. That concerns me to this day."

In further discussions with Commissioner Readey, I learned the history of Mayor Brooks' power to appoint Commissioners in Belle Isle. When Mayor Brooks was first elected, the City Council became concerned with his broad exercises of power. In an effort to curtail the Mayor's ability to singlehandedly govern our City, the Commissioners attempted to amend the City Charter to limit the Mayor's powers.

However, Mayor Brooks blocked the Council's efforts to amend the City Charter until the Council finally granted him one major concession - the ability to "recommend" replacement Commissioners when one Commissioner left before the expiration of his or her term. In this manner, Mayor Brooks preserved much of his power to govern Belle Isle without checks or balances on his authority. By "recommending" Commissioners in line with his own goals, the Mayor has been able to accomplish almost every one of his plans without significant Council opposition.

It's time for a change. It's time for open local elections with real competing candidates. It's time to restore democracy in Belle Isle. Therefore, I hereby announce formation of a citizen's group committed to these goals. Commissioner Readey has already pledged his support, sending the following correspondence to the Mayor earlier today:

Mayor Bill Brooks,

Certainly it our duty to be responsive to those faithful citizens now taking active parts in our Council meetings and to those we represent. This is a good thing. To that end here are items fellow citizens want us to address which I respectfully ask you to place on the next City Council workshop agenda:

Generate a Performance Work Appraisal (PWA) to evaluate our City Manager. Each Council member will do an independent appraisal. A weighing factor for each parameter on the appraisal should be in place. I am well qualified to chair this effort  and  volunteer to do so if the council desires.  As you know the PWA is a  most objective methodology leading to a fair salary offer when the time comes to do so soon. The public should also be invited for comment and should be allowed to monitor the entire process.

To review the publication process and filing dates for city official elections. It has been suggested that six months prior to the filing dates for elective positions, the mayor issue proclamations listing positions to be elected. The proclamation should be published by mail to all Belle Isle residents as well as posted on the City Website.

To review the existing process for replacing an elected official when he or she resigns before their terms expire.

A proclamation by council to eliminate the Fire Department.

Respectfully yours,

Harvey Readey - District 5 Commissioner

Now here's what you can do to support this cause:
  1. Call or email your Commissioner and tell them you support Dr. Bernstein's ordinance and a charter amendment requiring open election of replacement Commissioners upon retirement. If you copy me on your emails (, I will post your comments to the Sun. You can find your Commissioner's contact info listed here:  Representative Map & Contact Info
  2. Make a public comment at the next Council meeting, held on the first Tuesday of each month. The more citizen comments, the better. At the March 5 meeting regarding the fire department, you saw what determined citizens can accomplish just by speaking. Now it's time to tell the Mayor and the Council that we want real elections in Belle Isle!
  3. Know anyone who lives in Districts 1 or 7? [map linked here] The registration deadline for anyone who wants to run as Commissioner in either of those districts is November of this year. Let's find some candidates so that we can have an actual vote in March 2014!
  4. Stay up to date with all the latest news on this topic at The Belle Isle Sun. These things can move quickly, so sign up for my newsletter or Twitter feed (@belleislesun) to make sure you are notified whenever something new is posted!
  5. Email me at if you'd like to participate in this cause!

UPDATE 4/5/13:  I previously stated that it was the Commissioners in Districts 1 and 2 that are next up for election. This has been corrected to read Districts 1 and 7. These are two of the districts that surround Hoffner Avenue. See the high-resolution district map for more information:

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