Like the U.S. and Florida Constitution, the Orange County Charter is intended to set forth the basic framework for county governance and it is not intended to be cluttered with the agendas of out-of-town special or partisan political interests. In recent years Orange County’s job creators have become increasingly concerned that the business climate and reputation of Orange County was being adversely impacted by the assaults on the integrity of the Orange County Charter by special interests, particularly those from outside Orange County.
With out-of-state special interests funding a substantial portion of the last citizen petition drive of paid sick leave, the current citizen petition process allows for Washington, D.C.-based special interest groups, whose only concern is the national political significance of our region, to hijack the process and rewrite the sacred governing document of our county, the County Charter. Unfortunately, many petition signers and voters were unaware of the substantial role such organizations played in the process.
As a result, the Orange County Charter Review Commission has placed three questions on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot as a result of over 18 months of exhaustive research by along with more than 80 public meetings between Feb. 12, 2015 and June 21, 2016 and countless hours of work sessions and public testimony which drew broad public support for their well-reasoned proposals.
Question One will thoughtfully and responsibly provide greater clarity, transparency and accountability for those on both sides of the citizen initiative process, so that Orange County voters can make more informed decisions in the future. Included are common-sense reforms, such as a needed legal review, that mirror the best practices at the state level and in other counties to protect the integrity of the process and ensure transparency for the voters. In addition, requiring that a financial impact statement be placed on a revised petition form to helps educate the public on the cost of an initiative, in taxpayer dollars, if adopted. Businesses don’t sign a purchase order with knowing what it will ultimately cost them, so why should someone signing a petition to change how our local government operates be any different.
Furthermore, readers might recall that in 2014 Orange County voters approved by a resounding vote of 71 percent to hold nonpartisan elections and require term limits for the county’s constitutional officers. Unfortunately, some of these constitutional officers sought to overturn the expressed will of the voters with a lawsuit paid for with taxpayer dollars and which is currently under appeal. Questions Two and Three, if approved, would preserve the will of the voters while bringing these Constitutional Offices under the Orange County Charter and have the added benefit of increasing voter participation and opening up the election for these officials to the 31 percent of Orange County No-Party-Affiliation (NPA) voters who are currently prevented from voting in partisan elections.
Orange County voters do not want to see in their county government the partisan gridlock as we currently see in Washington, D. C. and with widespread support from organizations all across the business community including BusinessForce, the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, the Apopka Chamber of Commerce, the West Orange Political Alliance, and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association we encourage the entire business community to join us and vote “Yes” on all three Charter Questions.
Robert Agrusa is Executive Director of BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, which is composed of regional business and community leaders representing thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of employees.