By Mary Hladky
With few residents voicing opposition, City Council members have approved amending the city charter to increase their terms of office from three years to four.
But voters will have the final say. The change will take effect only if a majority of voters support it in the March 14 municipal election.
The longer council term was proposed by Mayor Scott Singer, who said that of the state’s 25 largest cities, Boca Raton is the only one that does not have four-year terms. Of the 50 largest cities, nearly all have such terms, he said.
According to the Florida League of Cities, 35% of all cities have four-year terms, 27% have three-year terms and 38% have two-year terms.
Singer said that if council members stand for election less frequently, they would be better able to focus on city issues.
“You would get more focused on policy, less on politicking,” he said.
They also would gain more time to bolster their expertise on city matters, he said.
The change would be particularly beneficial now, he said, because the city is about to lose the experience of its highest ranking officials. City Manager Leif Ahnell, Deputy City Manager George Brown and City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser are expected to retire within the next few years. Deputy City Manager Mike Woika retired last summer.
Only two residents opposed the idea at the Dec. 13 council meeting. Brian Stenberg, who lost election to the council in 2021, pointedly asked whether residents were clamoring for the change and who would benefit from it.
Singer’s proposal also drew opposition from the BocaFirst blog. One writer noted that no recent council candidates have campaigned on the issue. “This is politics pure and simple — it will be politicized,” he wrote.
Another wrote that more frequent elections result in council members staying in touch with voters’ concerns, while a longer term would make them “lazy towards voter interests.”
That writer also said Singer, who won reelection on Nov. 8 when he drew no opposition, stood to gain by getting a one-year extension on his term if voters approve the change.
But Singer and all other current council members, except for Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke who is term limited from seeking reelection, would get four years in office under Singer’s proposal.
Fran Nachlas, participating in her first council meeting since she also won election in November when she was the only candidate who filed to run for the seat vacated by Andy Thomson, said she could not support a change that would benefit her.
She said she had received more than 20 emails from residents urging her to vote no, at least some of which apparently came from those responding to a BocaFirst request that readers tell council members that they oppose the longer term. No one, Nachlas said, asked her to vote yes.
O’Rourke also opposed the change, saying that council members should be knowledgeable about the job when they run for office and should not need a longer term to improve their effectiveness.
With council members Monica Mayotte and Yvette Drucker joining Singer in support, the proposed charter change passed with a 3-2 vote.
In other business, the council unanimously supported a resolution, requested by O’Rourke, urging the Florida Legislature to designate a section of Glades Road between Dixie and Federal highways in the Pearl City neighborhood as Lois D. Martin Way.
Legislative action is needed because Glades Road is under state jurisdiction.
The effort to rename part of the road was spearheaded by Developing Interracial Social Change, or D.I.S.C.
Martin, a teacher and community leader, died Jan. 9, 2022, at the age of 93.
She was well known for her volunteer work on city boards and organizations including Boca Helping Hands and Habitat for Humanity. She also led efforts to obtain a historic designation for Pearl City. The Lois Martin Community Center at Dixie Manor in Pearl City is named in her honor.