Palm Bay: The Petitions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we started to work in this post, the more we realized how screwed up what is going on truly is. The initial focus of the post took a turn away from its original destination of “the petitions and the end game is on the agenda” to “what in the Wide Wide World of Sports is a-goin’ on here?”

Tonight at 7:00 PM the City Council of Palm Bay will hold a regular meeting starting at 7:00 PM.

The agenda for the meeting can be found here.

There are two items of interest to us on the agenda and both are related:

11. Consideration of a moratorium on special assessments and placement of language presented by the Citizens of Palm Bay Petition Committee on the ballot for the November 2020 general election. (Mayor Capote)

12. Consideration of the appointment of a Charter Review Commission. (Mayor Capote)

We talked in great length about the petition drive in a post called “A Tale of Two Petitions.”

To re-cap, citizens in Palm Bay wanted to repeal (or revert) an amendment to the City Charter that was passed in 2016. The residents claim that the change was passed due to mis-information from the City and a lack of understanding as to amounts they could be charged for roads and infrastructures in front of their property. The special assessments as approved often ended up taxing people more than the values of their properties in order to build the infrastructure the property owners had been promised for years.

(Because we want to be transparent about this, we supported the idea behind the petition group but felt the wording of the petition and the proposed ballot language was lacking small details. We discussed that here. Our stance on the petition drive was therefore neutral.)

The petition group plowed ahead, got the requisite numbers of signatures to have the issue on the ballot and turned them into the City. The City took the petitions to the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections for signature verification. The petitions were rejected en masse for failure to have a spot for the signer to put in their date of birth and or their voter registration ID number.

The problem was that the group was forced by the City Charter to use petition forms provided by the City of Palm Bay and for which the petition group had to pay. It was the City that had screwed up the petition forms – not the petition group.

Last Council meeting, Councilman Bailey brought the issue of the petitions and what to do next only to have the Mayor ask for time to meet with the City Clerk and the City Attorney to discuss the issue even though both were sitting on the dais at the time.

The result of the meeting(s) between the Mayor and whatever staff may have been present behind closed doors is tonight’s agenda items 11 and 12.

The items were put on the agenda by the Mayor. The agenda cover memo (which can be seen on page 448 of the agenda) is as follows:

The cover memo is as confusing as can be.

We believe that the moratorium on the special assessments and the issue of the referendum being on the ballot are two separate issues and should be treated as such. The reason is simple. The moratorium suspends enforcement / implementation of the law and the City Charter. After all, the City has elected to tax via special assessments under a provision of the Charter.

The City Council putting the petition language on the ballot must be done by ordinance. The moratorium and the language on the ballot are two separate issues and require two votes and at least one ordinance plus a second ordinance or resolution.

If the City want to approve a moratorium on special assessments, it must do so by resolution or ordinance. Generally speaking, moratoriums by resolutions are for emergency situations. (ie a moratorium for building permits after a hurricane.) They require no notice to the public and can be accomplished in a single meeting. Moratoriums by resolution can be repealed as easily as they were passed, that is without public notice and in a single meeting.

That is in contrast to a moratorium by ordinance which does not address emergency situations and requires public notice, two readings, and two votes by a Council at separate meetings. A repeal of a moratorium by ordinance would require the same notice, meetings, votes, etc.

We therefore have no idea why the City wants to pass a resolution on the moratorium. The moratorium should be passed by ordinance.

Moreover, and perhaps more pressing, is “where is the resolution or the ordinances now? Why weren’t they prepared for this meeting?”

This agenda item only tells the City Staff to create the documents to vote upon. That’s it. As the Mayor and the Staff had two weeks to come up with this, where are the documents?

Furthermore, in 2012, the City of Satellite Beach instituted a moratorium on a law prohibiting temporary signs for businesses in the City. Business owners wanted the ability to place small signs like “a-frame” signs outside of their business. After a number of meetings, the City decided to vote on the moratorium ordinance for the code dealing with signs. The ordinance passed but the City Attorney said that by law, the City could not have a moratorium on a law for more than a year – the ordinance would have to be renewed each year. Whether a moratorium being good for only a year may or may not be true. It was the legal advice of City Attorney of Satellite Beach and someone within Palm Bay may want to look into that aspect.

The agenda memo has this odd wording as well:

If voter-approved, fees would resume and be assessed in 2021.

Who knows what is being talked about here. The sentence is in the first paragraph and the wording from the petition group is not mentioned until the third paragraph. Citizens aren’t approving this moratorium by vote, so what is being referred to?

Some have suggested that the wording does apply to the petition committee wording but that doesn’t make much sense because if the petition referendum is passed by voters, the special assessments as we know them today go away. The special assessments would revert not to general voters, but to only the voters in the affected areas and properties.

The memo is not the work of a serious artist and we don’t know how it got out into the wild.

The memo for agenda item 12 (page 449 of the agenda) is no better.

The memo reads:

Should Council approve the agenda item to implement a moratorium on special assessments, the language presented by the Citizens of Palm Bay Petition Committee will be placed on the ballot for
the 2020 general election.

This is false. The vote on the moratorium and the vote on placing the referendum has be two separate votes. (This is especially true if the City wants to create a moratorium by resolution because the only way the City can put an item on the ballot is by ordinance.)

There are therefore multiple outcomes of the two votes from agenda item 11:

  • moratorium passes; ballot referendum passes
  • moratorium fails; ballot referendum passes
  • moratorium passes; ballot referendum fails
  • moratorium fails, ballot referendum fails

The two issues are not tied together and cannot be. We have no idea who wrote the memo for agenda item 12, but once again, it was not the work of a serious artist.

(The fact that Mayor Capote put both issues on the agenda may indicate that he wrote both memos. The lack of logic in the memos stuck out to us and we have no idea why either the Mayor or any staff member (such as the City Clerk and / or the City Attorney) didn’t say something.)

Hanlon’s razor is an aphorism which states:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

We are not willing to say with certainty that something is afoot here, but there is the appearance of great stupidity in these two agenda item cover memos.

No matter what, something doesn’t “feel” right about this whole thing to us, which is why the City needs to come clean.

So what is the bottom line for us?

We would like to see several things happen.

1) The costs of the petition forms be returned to the petition group. We won’t say this was a fraud perpetrated by the City, but the forms were sold for a specific purpose and could not be used for that purpose.

2) A full accounting of what happened with the petitions, the timing of the rejection by the Brevard County Supervisor of elections, who know what at the City level, the lack of the petitions complying with State guidelines and the failure to comply with the City Charter. If you are wondering what we are talking about as far as the Charter is concerned, the Charter reads:

Section 3.09 Petitions to Amend the City Charter or to Adopt or Repeal Ordinances.

(4) The procedures to have an issue placed on the ballot shall be as set forth in this section, and shall be subject to other governmental agencies’ requirements that may affect this section. (emphasis ours)

The Florida Department of Elections in 2006 instituted a rule indicating the need for a date of birth for every signature on the petition form in order for the signatures to be verified. In 2007, the rule added that either the voter registration number or the date of birth of the signer must be provided on the petition form.

Somehow, someone in City Hall missed that rule that had been in place for 11 years.

The actions or lack of actions by someone or group in City Hall caused the effective waste of thousands of man-hours in collecting signatures because the City supplied forms were wrong.

We think the citizens should know what happened and what steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again.

We also think that the City should explain why there are not ordinances attached to agenda item 11. It almost appears that the City is stalling, and we can see why they might be, but let them come out and tell the people why.

If the City Council really wants to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk when it comes to honesty and transparency within the City government, this is a good place to start.

The votes:

3) We believe the moratorium should be passed when it comes up for an actual vote. (Which is not tonight.)

We say that for three reasons. First, the special assessments were grossly underestimated by the City in presenting the issue to voters in 2016, Secondly, voters just approved $150 million in bonds for roads and infrastructure. Finally, the special assessments are, in our opinion, a double whammy to some property owners.

4) We believe that the ordinance with the language of the petition should not be on the ballot. As the City will be putting the issue on the ballot through an ordinance, we would prefer that the ballot return the Charter language to the pre-2016 language which, due to what appears to be a scrivener error on the petition itself, is just a tad off the stated goal of the petition group which was to roll the language back completely and totally.

As the petitions are not valid, the City can pass an ordinance with language that cleans up the small error and place that on the ballot.

If the City doesn’t want to make the small change for the ballot initiative to return the language to that of the 2016 level, we can live with the language of the petition. We simply prefer to go all the way back en toto.

Hope to see you at the meeting tonight.

If you can’t get there, send your suggestions and opinions to the Council members. Make sure to watch the meeting as it is available on the City’s website and on FaceBook live.

Get involved.

8 Responses to “Palm Bay: The Petitions.”

  1. Thomas L Gaume says:

    I’ll be there. One other option is to simply do what is called for in the (flawed) City Charter and have a special election in not less than 90 days, and not more than 180 days from now (as in today).

    Speaking only for myself (and not the petition committee), I’m fine with either outcome, but an outcome that is fair to the petition committee, the dozens of Citizen’s who signed the petition, and the nearly 10,000 Citizen’s who signed the petition is the only way to proceed forward.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Thomas L. Gaume,

      Thank you for the comment.

      We have always felt that you and us are working the issue from two different points of view.

      Your focus in on the assessment and money point of view while “glancing” at the procedural issues.

      Our focus has been on the procedural and “closed doors” part while “glancing” at the special assessment issue.

      To us, it is two side of the same coin with laudable and desirable goals on both sides. The City needs to have the issue on the ballot – either in 2020 or a special election – and they need to come clean and explain what happened, why, and how they have fixed the problem to not happen again.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Carmine Vitale says:

    One correction above,( sorry Tom) it should read “the dozens of citizens who collected signatures.”

    • AAfterwit says:

      Carmine Vitale,

      Thanks for the comment.

      We can’t speak for Thomas Gaume but we will say in jest in regards to the typo in his post,…..

      “Palm Bay can be like Chicago in this regards to the petitions…..sign early, sign often.”

      A. Afterwit.

  3. Mike Reitano says:

    Although I agree with your # 3 it will be a double whammy, To say that the assessments were grossly underestimated I do not remember that on the ballot it just stated a change to the charter allowing council to charge a assessment for any number of reasons,
    I saw no price tag or time line, So if you did not understand and voted yes that is on you, Never would I vote to willing give a politician that kind of power,
    As far as the bond there were many references to, if the bond passes the assessment goes away, the cities own website said that was not true,
    But that was still touted as fact by the PB referendum website if I remember correctly.
    SO I think the problem is more than just one sided. People need to do their research and stop just hearing what they want to hear. IMO

    • AAfterwit says:

      Mike Reitano,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Since 2016, the City has allowed two increases in fees affecting storm water and “infrastructure” and that is not including the bond issue.

      The issue in 2016 for the ballot was a special assessment which applies to real property which is enhanced by the work (ie storm drains, roads, etc.) The City presented the issue as needing more money to complete work in some areas but Council members said the increases would not be great.

      After the election, the special assessments came out and the increases were tremendous. The special assessment was that people in the affected areas would pay for all of the roads and infrastructure in their area as opposed to a general fund paying for some of the costs and the special assessments adding to the purse for that area. The Council had lied to the people.

      Then in 2017, the Council passed a general increase in stormwater fees as well.

      In 2018, the bond issued passed by the voters was promoted as replacing the need for special assessments.

      A person is only as good as their word, and the word of the people on the dais in Palm Bay is lacking.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.

      • Mike Reitano says:

        On the cities web site the go bond referendum page it stated the assessment for storm water would not go away with passage of the bond.

        • AAfterwit says:

          Mike Reitano,

          Thanks for the comment.

          On the cities web site the go bond referendum page it stated the assessment for storm water would not go away with passage of the bond.

          We are missing your point.

          A. Afterwit.

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