Florida Hometown Democracy amendment debated

09/11/07 Seán Kinane
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The Tampa Bay Business Journal held a debate on The Florida Hometown Democracy amendment this morning at the Pepin Hospitality Center in East Tampa.

Three supporters and three opponents of this amendment debated their positions before about 150 citizens who paid $49 for breakfast and the debate.

The Florida Hometown Democracy amendment, if approved, would require a vote by citizens before any local government may adopt or amend a comprehensive land-use plan. Business owner and aspiring politician Joe Redner explained why he supports the amendment.

“I’m here because our environmentally sensitive lands are getting paved over. We’re destroying our water sources. We’re doing everything we can to keep our heritage, our children and our children’s children from acquiring and inheriting the earth the way it should be.

"I think it’s going to put the big changes in the comprehensive plan; it’s going to put it in the hands of the people. I think they know what’s best,” Redner said.

But opponents of the Florida Hometown Democracy amendment, led by the business-friendly group Floridians for Smarter Growth Inc., has come up with an alternate amendment called the “Florida Growth Management Initiative.”

Adam Babington is the director of coalitions and initiatives of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“You’ll see costs that will be associated at all aspects of this process and taxes and fees that are going to have to go up in response to that. And you talked about the longer ballot. How long of a ballot do we need to print to have about 200 items on it? What about a voter guide that has to go along with a 200-item ballot? What about the time at the polls? What about the absentee ballots?

"And we have to mail all of these bulky ballots and voter guides to the voters. So that’s simply the practical application to having the election. And who’s going to pay for that? You’re going to have a battle between local governments and state governments,” Babington said.

But John Hendrick, chairman of the growth management/sprawl committee of the Florida Sierra Club, doesn’t think costs will be increased if the amendment passes.

“This business about costs that was brought up, you know, you’re already paying for gross costs, because most residential growth in the state of Florida doesn’t pay for itself. It doesn’t pay for itself through impact fees and the other fees it raises. That means your taxes be it from property taxes or whatever are higher than they otherwise would be already. If we don’t put things like Hometown Democracy in place, that whole process is going to continue.”

It takes 611,000 valid signatures to get the initiative on the 2008 ballot, and more than half that number has been collected so far.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the amendment complies with all requirements to be included on the ballot, including the single-subject requirement.

Without the Hometown Democracy amendment, Hendrick thinks changes to land-use plans occur too frequently.

“See how easy it is for them to make the change? All the developers have to do is call up the commission and say ‘I need my orange grove changed to development’ and they do it. The fact of the matter is every single municipality in this state has a comprehensive plan in place.”

According to a July article in the Palm Beach Post, Floridians for Smarter Growth Inc., “a political committee backed almost exclusively by home builders” has collected more than $800,000 to get its alternate amendment on the 2008 ballot.

Linda Loomis Shelly is a partner with the Fowler, White, Boggs and Banker law firm and opposes the Florida Hometown Democracy amendment.

“All of the reasons I oppose Hometown are valid if you assume that it is an add-on to our existing processes; the costs, confusion, uncertainty, etc. But there is no guarantee in our Constitution that we will even have comprehensive plans but this premise that we are just going to add on to our existing processes cannot be a promise.”

The third supporter of the Hometown Democracy amendment was public interest attorney Kenneth Weiss, who referenced an op-ed piece published in Sunday’s Tampa Tribune by Thomas Pelham, the secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

“A public official, who has represented developers over the last years of his practice, who now from his bully pulpit as being the head of the Department of Community Affairs, endorses a vote against a referendum. I mean, is that the appropriate conduct for a public official?

"This goes to the heart of the entire problem. And in his comments in that editorial, you’ll note in the next to last sentence that it appears, at least to me, that he intends to change the law on the case that he lost which gave the citizens of St. Pete Beach the right to vote on comprehensive plans.”

Former Democratic State Representative Bob Henriquez was the third opponent of Hometown Democracy in the debate.

Before the event, four scantily clad women stood outside holding signs and chanting references to Joe Redner.

“We’re here for Joe and we’re Dancers for Democracy, umm, my name’s Jackie, and you can see three of my friends. We love him, we hope that everything goes good in his debate and we want to decide, too, what happens in our town. [Cheering] Go Joe … Let us inside.”

But it is unclear who arranged for these four women to be at the event. Joe Redner said he does not know who they are and suggested that they were planted to distract people from the real issue.

“And I asked them, what are you doing here? They said, ‘we’re here to support Joe.’ They didn’t even know who I was. That means somebody here, I think, I don’t know this, put them up to that to take the emphasis off of what we’re doing here and that’s a crying shame.”

To learn more:

Florida Hometown Democracy

Floridians for Smarter Growth Inc.

Tampa Bay Business Journal

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