By Dan Moffett
Gulf Stream commissioners came to their first meeting of the new year primed for a lively discussion with the town’s civic association over a charter change to staggered elections.
What commissioners got instead was another debate among themselves after no one from the association showed up to make the case for a new process.
“I’m a little disappointed that the civic association is not participating in this dialogue,” said Commissioner Robert Ganger. “On one hand, you’ve got to congratulate them for starting this conversation. On the other hand, I think you better get on with it and set some real goals.”
In November, the association sent a letter to the commission urging the change from the current schedule that makes Gulf Stream one of only a few South Florida municipalities that elects all its commissioners in the same year.
But the civic association has had little to say since.
Patsy Randolph, who heads the association’s charter review committee, said there was “misunderstanding and miscommunication” between her group and the commissioners about attending the meeting. “The bigger picture is charter review,” she said, and the association is looking forward to working with the commission on that in the months ahead.
Running out of time before the March election deadlines and running out of patience for the no-show civic association, commissioners voted 5-0 to deny final approval for the staggered terms proposal.
Instead, they decided to keep the lines of communication open with residents and explore the issues of elections and other possible charter changes through workshops down the road.
Commissioner Garrett Dering, who says he won’t seek re-election when his term ends in March, argued that the commission shouldn’t defer its leadership role to the civic association as the dialogue over charter changes moves forward.
“Why is the civic association driving this?” Dering asked. “Shouldn’t the commission be doing it?”
Dering said that if members of the civic association “want to be driving the boat,” then they should run for office and be on the commission.
Ganger, former president of the civic association, said it was important that commissioners take cues from the association because it “represents 75 to 80 percent of the residents in the community.”
Countered Dering: “Well, we represent 100 percent.”
Mayor Joan Orthwein said she believes that some members of the association still support staggered terms, but the group isn’t ready yet to jump into the politics surrounding the issue.
“I think they’re researching other charters and communities to help decide what to do and what not to do,” she said.
On the prospects for a wider charter review, Town Attorney John “Skip” Randolph echoed Dering’s warning to avoid “knee-jerk reactions.” Randolph made the case for restraint and a thoughtful approach before changing the town’s blueprint for governing. He said there was nothing in it that was “begging for review.”
“The charter has worked well for you for a lot of years,” Randolph said. “It has served you well. The more simple the charter, the better. Your charter addresses everything you need to address in a charter.”
Gulf Stream has not had a commissioner who has gone through an election for a seat since 1993 and has had only one contested race since 1978.
“What good is a staggered election going to do to change that?” Dering asked.
In other business, commissioners decided to defer action on a proposal brought forward by Town Manager William Thrasher that would standardize construction markers for the grass areas along the town’s roadways.
Thrasher said the proposal was in response to a “cry for help” from property owners who have to make repairs to sodded areas that large construction and delivery trucks tear up when they drive off the pavement. He said currently residents use a hodgepodge of different markers — PVC pipe, concrete buttons, wooden stakes — to keep traffic off the grass.
Thrasher has proposed using golf course-style tee markers, but commissioners have concerns about liability issues and decided to solicit more research and revisit the issue later.