By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach voters will have several important charter amendments to consider when they go to the polls for the March 17 municipal election, and the results of the voting could change the town’s governance for years to come.
Probably the most consequential amendment proposal is a referendum that would increase the term of Town Council members and the mayor from two years to four. It would also extend the terms of council members elected in March 2019 to March 2022.
The change to longer terms has the approval of at least four current council members who believe the town should reduce the expense of frequent elections, improve efficiency by allowing officials to gain experience and decrease the time spent on campaigning.
“It will save us some money,” said Mayor Bonnie Fischer, “and it should help with stability.”
Fischer was elected to council in 2011. She is halfway through her fifth 2-year term.
The extended term referendum was one of a bundle of ballot measures the council approved at its Nov. 12 meeting.
Another proposed amendment calls for removing charter restrictions on the council’s power to increase or decrease council members’ pay. In 2017, the council narrowly passed an ordinance that raised the mayor’s monthly salary from $250 to $500 and boosted council members’ pay from $250 to $300. The proposed amendment would make it easier for the council to change compensation.
“We’re not extending our terms or giving ourselves raises,” said Councilman Bill LeRoy. “We’re asking you to allow us to do that.”
Also approved for the March election is a proposal that would make it easier for citizens to put initiatives on the ballot by reducing the number of petition signatures needed to qualify, from 15% of registered voters to 10%.
Council members also approved a proposed amendment that would give the mayor’s position the power to declare emergencies — a measure they hope would help expedite storm evacuations.
Two other charter issues on the ballot are essentially housekeeping measures that clean up outdated language.
Two seats on the council are scheduled to be contested in the March election, those held by Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb and Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan. The qualifying period for candidates began at noon Dec. 3 and runs until noon Dec. 17.
In other business:
• Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Maj. Chris Keane told the council his deputies “were completely over the moon” because of the warm reception they’ve received from residents.
Keane said he expects the seven former South Palm Beach police officers to complete their sheriff’s training regimen in November and be ready to return to duty in the town by December.
In June, the council voted to approve a 10-year contract with PBSO for its law enforcement services.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has scheduled a meet-and-greet barbecue luncheon for the town from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at The Barclay condominiums, 3546 S. Ocean Blvd.
Deputies will be on hand to show off new equipment and answer questions.
• Town Manager Robert Kellogg said officials are making progress on getting the last of the 16 easements needed from condo and property owners to begin a three-week, $700,000 dune restoration project with the town of Palm Beach early next year — perhaps before the end of April.
Kellogg and Fischer said the management of the sand distribution, start date and timetable will be up to Palm Beach, which holds the permits and funding for the project.
“We’re going along for the ride,” said Kellogg.
“They’re basically doing us a favor,” said Fischer.