Thursday, October 05, 2006

Key West City Abolished

The current charter for the City of Key West was adopted in 1984. I looked up this factoid after picking up my copy of Code of Key West, Florida - 1952 from our bookshelf as I was passing it to go out to the patio. (Why I have such book on our bookshelf is another matter, best addressed another time.) As I leafed through the 1952 code, I wondered if that was the code we were still operating under. The paragraph that set me wondering was this one:

Article I. Municipality

Sec. 1. Present municipality abolished

The present municipal govenment existing under the name of the City of Key West, be and the same is hereby abolished.

The 1952 Charter superseded one that operated from 1893 until 1952. The 1952 charter was embodied in 87 pages of single-spaced text and was divided into ten chapters, each addresssing an aspect of the City, such as Planning, Administration, Police, Elections, Finances, etc. A City Charter (and thus a City) is the creation of a state legislature. It alone holds the power to create subordinate bodies. Typically, those subordinates are towns, cities and counties, although other bodies like commissions, boards and such also exist.

The 1893 charter was in force for 59 years. When the current charter was adopted the prior one was 32 years old. Only 22 years have passed since 1984, so the current charter still has room to run. As far as I know, there is no set time that a charter can "live".

A City Charter can create almost any form of City government that can be imagined, but the State Constitution, and State Laws limit what might be considered "odd" forms, such as, for example, the Town Meeting form often found in smaller towns in New England and elsewhere; or the Commission form in which each Commissioner is the executive head of a City department. A City might choose to employ a strong mayor form of governance, where the Mayor is in essence the chief executive of the municipality and operates the City with the advice and consent of a City Council or similar body. Others opt for a City Manager form, wherein the municipality hires a manager to perform chief executive duties, and the Council or Commission functions as a board of directors, setting policy and tasking the Manager to carry out City operations in accordance with the charter and the Council's policy directive.

The National League of Cities reports:

Recent studies indicate that the distinctions between the mayor-council and the council-manager forms are becoming smaller and smaller. City officials continually change the structure of the municipal government. Those cities with a primarily mayor-council form often adopt features to improve management, while council-manager cities adopt features to increase their political responsiveness, and leadership.

I suppose that it might be possible to abolish once again the current City of Key West, you know, start all over again, and see if things can be made right. But that would be complicated. Better we should fix what's wrong with the charter we have, and the resonsibility for doing that belongs to the electorate, the voters, who retain for themselves in the current charter the right to approve changes to it by their vote at a duly announced and conducted election.

In the meantime, citizen awareness is the way to good government, in fact to Great Government, as I have reported before.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this island. My grandparents managed a hotel in KW in the sixties and seventies. I spent my summers there as a youth. I returned there when I got married and I have returned there many times after my marriage ended because it is a source of comfort for me. The history of the island is quite fascinating and I appreciate your study of that. For all its party reputation, it has quite a rich history and one worthy of study.

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