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Orange County charter amendments aim to limit citizen participation

Final drafts leave all attempts at change up to the discretion of the county commission

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Mock the vote

Just when you thought the oddly scripted Fred Brummer democracy takedown had reached its deserved conclusion – seriously, every wretched straw has been grasped in this clumsy volley to rewrite the Orange County charter over the past few months – last week we received the final text of what the termed-out commissioner’s political gamble has dwindled into. The so-called “County Charter Amendment Regarding Limiting the Power to Amend the Charter” chased its tail into our inbox (closely followed by the “County Charter Amendment Regarding Procedure for Initiative and Referendum”), and, well, it’s terrible.

The power-limiting one is likely one of the most absurdly abstract pieces of legislation ever to tiptoe across our transom, seeing as after about 13 reads, we can only make out something that resembles a daffodil – albeit a daffodil crushed on the floor with all vestiges of local democracy scattered around it.

First off, as promised, Brummer is pushing to make certain that no citizen initiatives would ever possibly affect “the regulation of employer wages, benefits or hours of work,” because that’s why everybody deleted their messages last year, and what a waste if we had to go through that again. Further on in the fine print, though, Brummer takes a flying leap into self-preservation for the poor entitled elected officials, forbidding any initiative from causing “the abbreviation of the term of any office during the term of that office, or within one year prior to the election for that office.”

The reason that’s important is that, currently, a political committee called Citizens for Informed Elections is rounding the bend in collecting petitions for a referendum that might do just that. In addition to making elected county offices declared as partisan offices – because they are, actually – the initiative would reboot the county election system, thereby forcing county electeds out of the safety of midterm hubris and into the November election cycle on presidential election years. More turnout equals more democracy, after all. Nobody votes in sleepy August midterm primary elections. As a result, Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ second term would be cut to two years to reset the system in 2016 should the initiative pass.

Brummer’s referendum – which is scheduled for this November’s ballot, pending a public hearing on July 29 – could go toe-to-toe with the Citizens initiative and effectively render it moot. Yeah, because that’s fair.

But wait. There’s more. Brummer’s amendment – this one, not the other one that quadruples the amount of time that the county has to silence an initiative from 45 days to 180 days – prohibits the county from calling a referendum on anything that the county commission deems unsuitable. AND, should they do so, or should they have already done so for an unnamed amount of time, the results of said referendum will be declared null and void. So, basically, the county is all-powerful, can block citizens at any turn, can nullify anything that it later decides was counterintuitive to its goals, and can take its sweet-ass time without any threat of losing. You have no say. Power grabs are fun.

“This is just Fred Brummer and the Republican Party of Florida with another pathetic attempt at telling voters to sit down and shut up,” Citizens’ chair Sean Ashby says of the apparent overreach.

Don’t sit down. Don’t shut up.

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