BY MARIE PULEO | POMPANO BEACH NEWS REPORTER
Leaders of municipalities throughout Broward County, including Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach, have joined forces to oppose a proposed county charter amendment that will appear on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot. The concern is that the amendment will infringe upon municipal home rule authority.
Pompano Beach Mayor Rex Hardin described the amendment as “draconian in nature.”
County Charter Amendment #2, if approved, would give Broward County the power to supersede municipal permitting and zoning rules for county transportation improvement projects funded by the 2018 voter-approved penny sales surtax, even if the projects fall within municipal boundaries.
Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach are among the Broward municipalities that have launched an educational initiative, called “Uncover Broward County Amendment Two,” to inform residents about the charter amendment through social media, mailings, public service announcements and videos.
However, according to City Attorney Mark Berman, the City of Pompano Beach will not be joining a lawsuit filed by the City of Weston against Broward County and the supervisor of elections, Peter Antonacci, even though the City Commission considered it.
The lawsuit alleges that the language of the ballot question pertaining to the charter amendment is misleading and politically biased. The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the question from being counted, or to declare it invalid even if it passes, since it is too late to remove it from the ballot.
The Pompano Beach City Commission, at its Sept. 22 meeting, unanimously approved a resolution opposing the amendment.
In addition, a motion was made by Commissioner Tom McMahon for the City of Pompano Beach to join the Weston lawsuit, which he said would send “a clear message” to the county.
None of the other commissioners expressed that they were against joining the lawsuit, only that they wanted to learn more about it and to join it if there was a consensus to do so.
Berman told the Commission that the lawsuit is a challenge to the wording of the ballot question, and that this is “very, very difficult to overcome, generally.” He added that Weston’s involvement “will certainly be beneficial to all of us, whether we join in or do not join in.”
After Commission discussion, the motion was amended to direct Berman and City Manager Greg Harrison to go over the ballot question and lawsuit with each commissioner individually in the days following the commission meeting, and to move forward with joining the lawsuit if there was a consensus among the commissioners. The motion, which was approved unanimously, was a way to avoid delaying a vote until the next commission meeting on Oct. 27.
According to Berman, the one-on-one discussions with the commissioners did not result in a majority consensus for the City of Pompano Beach to join the lawsuit. Berman did not provide details regarding why a consensus had not been reached.
Mayor Rex Hardin said he was supportive of joining the lawsuit, even if it may be a difficult case. The financial impact to the City of Pompano Beach would have been capped at $2,500, which he felt “was not a tremendously large expense to lend our voice and support to this issue,” considering its importance.
According to Weston City Attorney Jamie Cole, the City of Lauderdale Lakes has joined the lawsuit against the county.
The Deerfield Beach City Commission, at its meeting tonight, is scheduled to vote on a resolution to join the lawsuit. The Parkland City Commission and the Davie Town Council are scheduled to vote on whether to join the lawsuit or not at their respective meetings on Oct. 7.
According to Lighthouse Point Mayor Glenn Troast, the City Commission will be voting on a resolution opposing Charter Amendment Two, likely at its meeting on Oct. 13. The City is also waiting to get more information about the Weston lawsuit before considering joining it.
Each city that wants to join the lawsuit has been asked to contribute a minimum of $2,500 towards the cost of the litigation. The City of Weston has authorized the expenditure of up to $25,000 in Circuit Court, and, if necessary, an additional $10,000 for any appeals.
A number of other cities are thinking about joining also, said Cole, who believes the ballot language of Charter Amendment Two is misleading, and not fair and objective.
The language on the ballot for Charter Amendment Two is as follows:
“To facilitate implementation of surtax-funded improvements to the countywide transportation system, shall the Broward County Charter be amended to provide that County ordinances regulating the development, including zoning, permitting, construction, operation, or administration, of transportation improvement projects that are (1) on County-owned or County-leased property and (2) funded in whole or in part with proceeds from the transportation surtax approved by the County’s voters in 2018, prevail over conflicting Municipal ordinances?”
Cole said the wording does not advise the voter of the substance of the amendment but rather gives the voter a reason to vote for it, which is “contrary to what ballot questions are supposed to be.” He added that the ballot question says the amendment will “facilitate improvements,” but in fact, “it just changes who makes the decisions” – the County Commission rather than locally elected officials.
“It doesn’t disclose that residents are not going to have as much of an opportunity to be heard before things happen in their communities,” said Cole.
The lawsuit states that a Florida Department of Transportation park-and-ride facility proposed to be located in the City of Weston was specifically mentioned by members of the County Commission as “precipitating the purported need for placing the challenged proposed Charter Amendment on the ballot.” The park-and-ride project was successfully opposed based on local concerns.
The penny sales surtax is also being used to fund municipal transportation projects, but those are not an issue because they are projects municipalities want to do, said Cole.
Charter Amendment Two could affect projects the county wants to do within a city, such as a bus depot or a park-and-ride lot, in an area the city thinks is not appropriate.
“The county could ignore the city’s zoning and build it anyway,” said Cole.
Pompano Beach Mayor Rex Hardin cited a recent instance of the county wanting to put a 911 communications system tower in a park in the City of Hollywood, but the city fought against it.
Hardin believes “that left a really bad taste in the county’s mouth,” but Charter Amendment Two “is just a step too far.”
“I think there’s a different way to go about this,” said Hardin. “I think we can have a more deliberative process where we work together, the county and the cities, to come to a consensus on the transportation projects and get them built.”
Last week, the county and the supervisor of elections filed a response to the Weston lawsuit, denying that the city is entitled to any of the relief it seeks.
One of the arguments is that the request to not count the ballot question votes comes too late. The supervisor of elections has also already programmed approximately 2,000 vote tabulation machines to be deployed to the 577 precincts and 22 early voting sites. The only way for these machines not to count the ballot question votes would be to reprogram them, which would “cause significant disruption to the entire electoral process in Broward County.”
A final hearing for the lawsuit is scheduled for October 28, 2020 at 10am. The judge could make a ruling at the hearing or at a later date, said Cole.
In June, the Broward County Commission approved the first cycle of county and municipal projects to be awarded funding from the surtax revenues. The distribution of surtax revenues for county and municipal transportation-related projects will be ongoing for 30 years. The county is currently working on a 5-year plan for the second cycle of funding, which will cover fiscal years 2021-2025.
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