Wednesday, September 7, 2011

County politicians ask Florida Supreme Court to abolish voter-approved county term limits

It's official. Broward County politicians, hiding behind their attorneys, are appealing the recent appellate court decision that deemed county commission term limits constitutional. Yes, county term limits are going to the Florida Supreme Court.

Bill Scherer, acting for sitting Broward commissioner John Rodstrom among others, launched the appeal after losing his case at the appellate court level on Aug. 10. The appellate court had decided -- unanimously -- that home rule charter counties do indeed have the right to customize their county commissions as they have long done.

It is for this reason that some charter counties have seven commissioners and some have five, or even 13. Some have single member districts and some are elected from the county at-large -- and some have a blend of the two. Some have a strong mayor system and some have a commission-manager structure. Some counties offer nominal compensation to cover expenses and others offer high salaries with benefits. Some charter counties (10) have term limits and some don't (10).

In home rule counties, all charter changes such as these are approved by the voters in a referendum, sometimes by a citizen's initiative after collecting thousands of signatures from their neighbors. Florida's county term limits were adopted by lopsided votes of the people, including 80% voter approval in Broward.

The August decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals upheld Broward County term limits, argued that this traditional understanding of home rule is correct. The people won; the politicians lost. It should have ended there.

But politicians grasp for power like a drowning man gasps for air. Scherer and his cronies argue in their appeal to the Supreme Court that the people cannot be trusted to alter their charter in this way. Instead, county commissioners should be treated just like constitutional officers -- such as the tax collector and property appraisers -- which are state creations over which the Supreme Court has said people have less say.

This is seen as a weak argument, as constitutional officers are distinct from county commissioners are treated in a different section of the state constitution. The quite readable 4th district decision makes this distinction as clear as day.

Meanwhile, the desperate Broward political clan is tossing 2012 county elections across the state into confusion in their last bid to hold on to the thrones that have enriched and, sadly but evidently, corrupted them.