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Leon Charter Review Committee Plans Could Revamp Local Government

Leon County voters could be asked to decide on a bevy of subjects—from whether certain local offices should become non-partisan to limiting Community Redevelopment agency dollars to public projects. The Citizens Review Committee plans to further explore these issues at its upcoming meeting next week.

Leon County’s charter is up for review, and the citizens review committee is digging through a myriad of topics to decide which to forward to the county commission. It has the last say on what will appear before voters. And so far, there’s a consensus that more of the county’s top elected positions should become non-partisan. Those include races for property appraiser, sheriff, tax collector and clerk of court.

“Nineteen percent of the voters in Leon County are registered as non-partisan. Twenty percent of the voters in the city are registered as non-partisan," says committee member Ted Thomas.

He argues about 20 percent of Leon County voters are registered with no party affiliation, which locks them out of voting in most primaries in races that are. But the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP’s Wilson Barnes argues the change could disenfranchise more voters than it helps:

"Non-partisan elections for constitutional officers…I think Walt McNeil has been here and Doris Maloy and they’ve stated a position on it…and we share his concerns," he said.

Sheriff McNeill and Court Clerk Maloy are both opposed to non-partisan elections for their posts. An analysis by local democratic consultant Matt Isbell finds 40 percent of Democratic primary voters are black. Making certain races non-partisan would drop that to about 26 percent, giving African Americans less of a voice. The NAACP also takes issue with another proposal giving residents a greater say in who is elected to the county commission and how.

Meanwhile, as the county works to reduce its role in the Community Redevelopment Agency a plan to stop the county’s expenditure on CRA funds to non-public projects is getting a closer look. At issue says the proposal’s sponsor Gordon Thames is the ongoing FBI probe thought to involve some CRA projects with private investors.

“You just have a lot of things going on in the community that hasn’t led us to a great place," he said. "I’m not saying there haven’t been good things done in the past but, this is ‘lethal simplicity’ [to quote] the new [Florida State University football] coach against corruption. Because there’s not a lot of people that will do shady stuff to build stuff for the county.”

But whether that’s actually in the power of the charter review committee is also in question, as is whether such a policy could be enforced.

The group will take up more proposals and could even begin drafting language at its January 11th meeting. On January 18th, it will consider language to modify the makeup of the county commission, increase campaign contribution limits to a thousand dollars, and put an ethics code into the charter.