Thursday, September 23, 2010

Campaign update #19


At the Sept. 15 mayor-commission workshop, Commissioner Bill Moss announced his support for a charter review commission to look over the charter and offer changes for a public vote in time for the March election.

A quick history lesson for context: Earlier this year when Mayor Lois Frankel decided she wished to upend West Palm Beach's voter-approved 8-year term limit on the mayor, her first move was to call for a charter review commission to suggest changes to the charter, including -- just maybe -- ditching the term limit. She stacked the commission with political allies and cronies and awaited their independent report. Everyone, including most notably the Palm Beach Post, saw through this and due to public outcry, the mayor pulled the plug on the commission before its first meeting on term limits.

It looked like there was still time, so she decided to put her anti-term limits proposal on the ballot the same way her constituents would have to do it, via the laborious process of collecting signatures to show a minimum threshhold of public support.

When she didn't find enough support she went to the commission and asked them to put it on the ballot anyway. The voting public -- known in the mayor's office as 'inarticulate' 'idiotic' and 'extremists' -- erupted and the commission declined the mayor's request on Aug. 9. It is now too late to do so.

So, the mayor's hench-persons went back to work collecting signatures, but it is summertime and very hot and, well, they still apparently haven't been able to get the signatures. Maybe they eventually will.

Now we hear of Bill Moss' idea to have a quickie charter review in time for the March ballot. We don't see how this can be used to secure a third term for the mayor, but color us suspicious.

For one thing, Moss is a reliable Frankel ally on the commission. But also he is a board member of the Florida League of Cities, a sort-of trade union for municipalities created to protect their institutional interests as distinct from -- and generally in opposition to -- those of the public. Naturally, the League hates term limits.

Often when politicians put popular term limits on the chopping block they try to attach some gimmick that gives some powerful interest an incentive in supporting the proposal. In New York, for instance, Mayor Bloomberg also proposed lifting the council members term limits when he lifted his own, therefore eliciting their support.

This common trick may be used here. One of the specific ideas Moss offers to add some sugar to the anti-term limits medicine, according to the Palm Beach Post, is:

"Giving commissioners longer terms. Currently, commissioners serve two years term. Both Douglas and Moss advocate three or four year terms for commissioners so they don’t have to constantly focus on elections."

This may or may not be a good idea. In fact, a review of the charter by a charter review commission itself probably is a good idea. However, being proposed as a rush job in the center of a contentious debate over the mayor's term limit, we suspect its inclusion may be more geared toward getting a commission vote on the mayor's term limit than public spiritedness.

Let's keep our eyes open.