“Hometown Democracy” and Super Majority Voting

Below is text of my letter to the Winter Park City Commission on the subjects of “Hometown Democracy” and super majority voting as provided on November 10, 2008.

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City Commission Members
City of Winter Park, Florida

I respectfully request that this letter be included in the minutes of today’s City Commission meeting.

The pending “Hometown Democracy” state wide referendum captures the frustrations of people who oppose growth in Florida or have come to resent the influence of commercial interests. Certainly, there have been government approvals of Comprehensive Plan changes that resulted in developments that have consumed land and resources. I presume it likely without specific study that impact fees paid for some of these developments have not recouped the direct infrastructure costs associated with them and that intangible costs can be found in many cases that have not been fully addressed. I also presume other circumstances have occurred where elected officials with business ties to commercial interests have voted to approve Comprehensive Plan changes and developments that indirectly or directly benefited the elected officials.

The frustration is founded in reality in some cases. But is the pending “Hometown Democracy” referendum an answer to this frustration that addresses reality? I think not. Unlike those who righteously demonize commercial interests and growth in the name of “the people,” the issues are not simple. Cities need funding, citizens need services, circumstances change, priorities change, and structures we create to govern ourselves need flexibility to respond accordingly.

As a practical matter “Hometown Democracy” will stop changes to local Comprehensive Plans altogether or only be used by extremists to deter development. The only policy approach more confining and dangerous to the long term interests of citizens is to make changes to Comprehensive Plans subject to super-majority vote of an elected body. “Hometown Democracy” control imposes the costs and vagaries of elections while “super-majority” control imposes tyranny of the minority. Both approaches are designed by their authors to make it sufficiently onerous to commercial interests so as to deter their interest altogether, which is exactly what will happen. Both approaches to controlling development are sourced in extreme thinking and will have extreme consequences. Both approaches are reactionary, not constructive.

It is the owners of property, both commercial and residential, who pay the taxes and fees that sustain the local community. We don’t pay for police, fire, parks, and roads with righteousness and dogma, we pay for these things with cash that comes primarily from property owners. Creating legal hurdles and uncertainties that alienate property owners is equivalent to shooting ourselves in the foot to make us feel better. What do we do under “Hometown Democracy” control if voters moved by emotional appeals approve a Comprehensive Plan that so restricts zoning that it reduces property values and results in lawsuits? What do we do under “super-majority” control when the need for change in any direction is clear to a majority of citizens and elected officials but that change is blocked by a minority? These are both dead ends.

Winter Park and other communities can righteously flagellate to exhaustion and economic peril or can pursue constructive ways to work together with commercial interests to create long term value. Winter Park can realize long term value by defining and encouraging redevelopment that is both appropriate and financially viable for both the city and commercial interests. Unlike imposing restrictive legislation supported by righteous pronouncements about serving “the people,” the constructive solution requires hard work and offers real opportunity. Not surprisingly, I support this later course of action.

Accordingly, I recommend that the Winter Park City Commission vote to support the resolution of the Florida League of Cities, Inc., opposing an amendment to the Florida constitution requiring that every amendment to a city’s or county’s Comprehensive Plan be subject to a vote of the respective city’s or county’s electorate.

I also recommend that the Winter Park City Commission revisit and reverse the “super-majority” voting requirements included in the Winter Park Comprehensive Plan as recently approved and submitted to the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Yours Truly,

Peter J. Weldon


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