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A proposed ballot referendum on term limits failed to receive a majority approval by Wilton Manors commissioners.

On a 3-2 vote, commissioners rejected a proposal by the Charter Review Board that would have allowed elected officials to serve 12-year maximum terms with a two-year absence. Vice Mayor Paul Rolli and Commissioner Mike Bracchi voted no on the ordinance and Commissioners Chris Caputo and Gary Resnick voted yes. Mayor Scott Newton broke the tie, casting the deciding no vote to defeat the proposal.

“I just don’t think the city needs term limits,” said Newton.

Rolli said the scenario presented by the Charter Review Board did not make sense. The board has since sunsetted and will not convene again until 2030. Board Chair Michael Rajner said the proposal was the best compromise the board could agree on.

“I support term limits but the option provided by the Charter Review Board would have allowed someone to serve up to 24 years with only a two-year break,” Rolli said. “I would like to have considered more meaningful term limits, such as a total of eight or 12 years with a longer break in service.”

Bracchi agreed with Rolli’s analysis of how the proposal was written, calling it a farce.

“I’m not supportive of the way this is written because I don’t think it solves any type of problem,” Bracchi said. “I’m not going to support this as is. I don’t think it’s necessary. If we are going to do term limits just max it at 12 and let someone go and run for school board or something else.”

At the commission’s Oct. 26 regular meeting, Bracchi shared data from the city clerk’s office showing the average term length for mayor was 4.29 years and 5.5 years for commissioners. Newton holds the distinction of one of the longest-serving commissioners in city history, serving for a total of 14 years.

Newton was off the commission for two years prior to being elected mayor in the 2020 elections. In its current design, mayors serve two years and commissioners are elected to four-year terms.

“Being here over 60 years in Wilton Manors I’ve seen a lot happen,” Newton said. “I was out for two years and you sit down and get a better perspective for what’s going on. This city is so small that if somebody were to do something it’s from the eastside to the westside by tomorrow. It’s different here. If they don’t want you in here they’re gonna vote you out.”

Westside resident Hunter Stephens addressed the commission, asking the city to revisit the issue. Stephens proposed a limit of eight years and two terms for commissioners, while increasing the mayor’s term beyond two years. Stephens said the Charter Review Board’s proposal would not allow for mentoring of new leaders and only reinforces problems of stagnation and complacency.

“I think we have ample evidence, frankly, that staying too long leads to complacency and less accountability,” Stephens said. “An elected official might come to believe that they don’t need to live and interact among the residents that they purport to represent.”

Resnick, first elected to the commission in 1998, is the longest-serving mayor in city history. He served for 10 years from 2008 to 2018. Attending the proceedings remotely via Zoom, Resnick noted there is not always a qualified pool of candidates ready to step up.

“We’ve had elections where not enough people filed to run for the openings,” Resnick said.  “There’s been elections during my term on the city commission where we couldn’t get anybody to run. Normally, you are lucky if you get anybody to run for mayor in this city and you’re lucky if you get more than two people to run for commission meetings. So think twice before you limit who can run for these offices or you tell residents that we are not going to give you that option to make these decisions in an election.”

Although he did not issue a full-throated endorsement of term limits, Resnick did vote to let residents decide. Caputo too voted in favor of the ordinance, saying it was fulfilling a campaign promise, but also acknowledged a dearth of candidates.

“The reality is there isn’t this mass rush of people to fill these positions,” Caputo said.

Caputo also raised the issue of cost in bringing a term limits referendum to the ballot. City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said each extra page to the ballot costs $1,400 as the referendum would have to be written in three languages: English, Spanish and Creole.

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