By Sallie James
It’s finally settled. Boca Raton voters will get the chance to decide two issues on the Aug. 30 primary election ballot: Whether unexpected City Council vacancies should be filled by special election and whether council members should get a raise.
First, it took the pleas of nearly 20 residents to finally persuade the council to vote “Yes” on the council vacancy issue.
Resident Geraldine Allerman told council members the charter change was essential.
“I strongly support this ordinance and I would like to see it changed. We really need a more democratic process,” Allerman said at the June 14 City Council meeting.
What city officials approved is a slightly revised version of an earlier proposal by council member Scott Singer that tanked in May amid a barrage of criticism. Singer remained adamant about the proposal, saying voters needed the ability to choose someone for an open council seat rather than watch an appointed member serve until the next regularly scheduled city election.
He reintroduced the measure with revisions. The revised charter change would require council vacancies be filled by special election no later than 90 days after the vacancy occurred. The new version also includes language that outlines the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of holding special elections concurrently with previously scheduled elections.
“I think the fact there were 17 speakers from the public all unanimously in favor of the change shows how the public feels about this role in government. I am pleased there was unanimous support for this good government provision,” Singer said after the vote. “I am pleased that the council supports the concept of letting the people always choose their elected leaders.”
Singer first presented the proposal to the council in early May, but it failed after council members expressed concerns about unknown costs, among other things.
The revised charter change provides that a special election for a council vacancy would take place the Tuesday following the 90th day after the vacancy occurs or as soon as practical. The amendment goes on to say if the vacancy occurs within 150 days of a previously scheduled federal, state, countywide or city election, the special election can be held concurrently.
Cost has always been a concern. According to Boca Raton City Clerk Susan Saxton, a special election held in conjunction with a primary or general election could cost the city anywhere from $7,500 to $10,000. A stand-alone special election — which would include all actual costs incurred by the county supervisor of elections — would cost between $120,000 and $135,000.
Mayor Susan Haynie said the revised charter change covered all the bases.
“I think we have heard from the public. I think all the different combinations, scenarios have been addressed here,” Haynie said. “This isn’t something that happens on a frequent basis. This addresses the stand-alone elections and I intend to support it.”
City activist Betty Grinnan called the charter change a “no brainer.”
“It’s a vote for democracy,” Grinnan said.
The council at the meeting also unanimously approved putting on the Aug. 30 ballot proposed salary increases for the mayor and City Council members, but they changed some of the original proposals made in late April.
The revised ordinance removes proposed automatic salary increases tied to the County Commission and slightly reduces the previously proposed annual salaries.
The earlier proposed salary of $38,550 for the mayor was reduced to $38,000 in the revised proposal, and the initial proposed salary of $28,766 for City Council members was reduced to $28,000 in the revision.
Boca Raton’s mayor is now paid $9,000 a year, while council members are paid $7,200 a year.
The April proposal from council member Robert Weinroth suggested elected officials get pay raises that more than quadruple their salaries, and stated that if Palm Beach County commissioners’ salaries are raised, Boca Raton council members’ salaries would be raised the same percentage.
Weinroth said he proposed the revisions because feedback from the community and the Chamber of Commerce showed support for the increase, but reservations about making them automatic.
“In the time that has passed I have heard from voters who had misgivings that this salary could continue to rise without their input,” Weinroth said.
If voters approve the measure, the pay hikes would become effective in October 2017. Previous attempts in 2004 and 2006 to increase the salaries both failed.
City resident James Hendrey supports the salary increases and thinks they are necessary to attract quality City Council candidates.
“We are only going to make that happen if people are compensated fairly for the effort you put forward,” Hendrey told council members. “It should not be a windfall, but recognition that you folks are giving to your community in a very great way. I am in favor of this and I think it’s really important.”
By Sallie James