Sheriff Jerry Demings and Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie came together for a joint press conference Friday in which they denounced and recommended ‘no’ votes on all three of the amendments to the Orange County Charter currently on voter ballots.
The first amendment proposed deals with how citizens can get amendments to be voted on in the charter, tightening restrictions in what is intended to be a defense against corporate interests or lobbyists getting their tendrils into local government.
The second deals with making elected officials such as Sheriff, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections, Clerk of Circuit Court, and Comptroller into nonpartisan, elected charter officers subject to term limits.
The third would shield the provisions in the charter on term limits from being altered by any prior court orders rendering them null.
Demings said he has had people coming to him and complaining that the amendments were too confusing – and so he decided to make his opinion on them public: people should vote ‘no’ on all three charter amendments, he said, as they’re unnecessary and the result of “partisan politics” at the local level.
“Nothing really is broken with the current system of our constitutional officers are currently elected,” he said. “It really is not necessary to make any changes at this time. It is my opinion that voters should vote no on all three charter amendments.”
Haynie, who is retiring from her position as Comptroller and will be replaced by one of the contenders from the election, said the charter amendments being passed could pose a major threat to the impartiality of the Comptroller office.
“The actions of my office to obtain widespread citizen confidence would not have occurred if my actions had to be approved by the mayor and county commission,” Haynie said. “There is simply no way to guarantee the independence of any constitutional officers except to leave it in the constitution. There’s no public outcry for any of us to be subject to the will of the Board of County Commissioners. And I think [the amendments] are complicated, they’re unnecessary, I think they’re disingenuous.”
She said the first amendment, regarding the procedure for citizens to put initiatives on the ballot, was also unnecessary, as it was already a strenuous enough process.
Overall, she said those confused by the amendments were best off voting ‘no’ on them.
“If you don’t understand what they say, vote no,” she said. “That goes for any charter amendments. There’s not been any cry for this to happen and they’re unnecessary.”
In an op-ed written on the amendments, Mayor Teresa Jacobs makes the case that the amendments are good because they guarantee nonpartisan seats for many county officials. That avoids the kind of gridlock that plagues Washington D.C., she wrote.
“We don’t need Washington-style gridlock in Central Florida,” she wrote. “That’s why Orange County voters amended the County Charter more than twenty years ago, eliminating partisan elections for County Commission seats. Why? Because political affiliation doesn’t matter to the pothole that needs filling. From clean water to safe streets to good schools, our focus should be on creating a community brimming with opportunity and promise for all. Partisan politics brings exactly the opposite. For proof, look no further than Congress.”
She also says Haynie’s concerns about her office and others becoming subject to the BCC’s will are unfounded.
“That is simply not true,” she wrote. “And this is not an opinion, it is a fact. Charter amendments 2 and 3 expressly preserve their independence. Further, the BCC cannot alter the charter in any way; it can only be changed by a vote of the citizens.”