Parkland city officials want the city to do away with the practice of having special elections to fill a City Commission vacancy and want the city to go back to filling the seat by appointment until the next regularly scheduled city election.
The Commission’s stand is in stark contrast to the city’s charter review advisory board, which recommended having a special election within four months to fill a vacancy if it occurs more than 180 days before the expiration of the seat’s term.
Four out of five officials said they were concerned about low voter turnout and the rising cost of special elections. With the supervisor of elections spending less on elections, the city has had to bear most of the costs of special elections, Commissioner Jared Moskowitz said.
“We used to have appointments before we changed to having special elections,” Moskowitz said. “It turned out to be a real life mistake. We have had four elections in five years. I agree that city officials should be elected by residents, but we need to keep costs down. An interim appointment should be no longer than two years.”
“We try to avoid someone being elected by a small minority of people,” Moskowitz, whose resignation from the City Commission effective Nov. 5 this year would create the next vacancy, said. “We moved our elections to November. It saved us money and we increased vote turnout.”
“I was elected the first time in a January election,” Vice Mayor Mark Weissman said. “We had 800 people voting and it cost the city $20,000. All cities are now moving their election dates from March to November.”
Commissioner Dave Rosenof was the only city official to support special elections. “I understand the cost, but [having special elections] is what a government should do,” he said.
Mayor Michael Udine supported scheduling the special election to coincide with the next regularly-scheduled city election. “A lot of times, we don’t have to appoint anybody,” he said. “We have elections in the city every other year.”
“It’s a good thing to save money, but it is a better thing to let people choose their representative,” Doug Kruse, the chairman of the charter review advisory board and a former Manchester, N.H. School Board member, said. “The board believes it is something worth spending money on, especially since the population of the city is going to nearly double in a few years.”
One of the other two recommendations of the board was to amend the charter to ensure that no formal action is taken by the Commission, except by an affirmative vote of at least three members. Currently, the commission can pass an item by a 2 to 1 majority vote if only three members are at the meeting.
City officials decided the proposed amendment need not be on the November ballot. “We don’t want two people deciding for the whole city,” Moskowitz said. “If for some reason there are only three members at a meeting and if someone is dying on the sword on some issue, all the person has to do is walk out.”
“A minimum vote requirement of three is a pretty standard provision in most city charters,” Kruse, who served on the Broward County School District’s Parent-Community Involvement Task Force last year, said. “I don’t like the idea of a public official walking out of a meeting.”
The board determined that the current provision for quadrennial redistricting is overly prescriptive and wanted the city to make it more general. The board members are Andrea Beckerman, vice chairwoman; Robin Day, alternate; Clifford Haye; Kruse; Chris Pederson, alternate; Gema Polimeni; Scott Rostock; George Silver; and Jim Weiss.