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opinion

August 14th, 2014

The true will of the public


W

 hen the Charter Review Commission met in 2013, they addressed Charter language that describes when the Village Council must schedule elections on initiative or referendum petitions.
Rather than having a special election, Commission members suggested, it was best for the Council to set such votes for the next general election, as turnout is higher and results would therefore be more representative.
The following November, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that requires an initiative or referendum election to be held at the earliest of two options: the next regularly scheduled Mayoral or Council member election which is not a primary election, or the next regularly scheduled countywide election which is not a primary election.
Commission members said the changes would allow the true will of the public to be heard, and would prevent special interest groups from trying to improve their odds of success by timing items for a special election.
While the Commission was doing everything it could to ensure the will of the people was heard, it was not taking into consideration a loophole in the Charter change that gives a Council the ability to keep an initiative or referendum off a general election ballot.
Such is what has happened in our Village in regard to the “dog park petition” that would make it illegal to have domestic animals on the 530 Crandon Boulevard property.
After the petitioners’ signatures were authenticated, the Council had until August 5 to call a special meeting that would allow the issue to go on the November 4 ballot.
Granted, the timing for all of this could not have been worse. The Council was on summer break, and trying to get a quorum when members are hither and yon can be difficult if not impossible.
Mayor Frank Caplan initially called a special meeting for July 22, but then had to cancel it due to a lack of a quorum.
So a special meeting to give the voters an opportunity to exercise their will never happened. What did occur, however, was that the Council agreed to a special meeting August 6, the day after Miami-Dade County’s deadline to submit items for the November ballot. The Council called the session to deal with the comparatively mundane task of formally accepting easements for public beach paths adjacent to the new Oceana condominium.
There was some back and forth communication to have the dog park petition included on that agenda in hopes the Council could persuade the County to allow an extension to have the referendum included on the November ballot.
It was not included on the agenda.
How and why that occurred and the repercussions of it will certainly be the basis for articles in The Islander for months to come.
Our Council had no legal obligation to call a special meeting or do anything help the petitioners – over 700 Key Biscayne residents – get the issue on the ballot.
Some have said they had a moral obligation.
We prefer to call it a spiritual obligation: they should have acted in the spirit of the Charter Commission that took steps to change the Charter so the true will of the people could be heard.

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