CRESTVIEW — After more than three years of effort to create a revised city charter and bring it before voters, a public records request to City Clerk Betsy Roy’s office has revealed an administrative error that necessitated the city council voting to repeal the ordinance that placed the proposed charter on the November ballot.
Faced with the potential for the new charter to be challenged should voters have passed it on Nov. 6, the council reluctantly voted unanimously to repeal the ordinance.
Roy announced the mistake at Monday evening’s council meeting after conferring Friday with city attorney Jerry Miller.
“It has come to the attention of this office that there may be a problem with the advertisement and timing of the public hearing for the charter Ordinance 1474,” Roy stated in an email to Miller.
The ordinance hearing was advertised for March 26 of this year, however the actual meeting wasn’t held until April 9.
“The public hearing was not held on the night noticed in the public notice,” Miller stated in his email reply to Roy. “The requirements for adoption of Ordinance 1474 were not met. The method available for correction of the error is repeal of the ordinance and readopting by the city council.”
Because of a state five-year statute of limitations, Miller said that if voters had approved the new charter on Nov. 6, it could be challenged at any time for the next five years because of the error.
“Ordinance 1474 will have to be repealed and re-submitted in order to get in the charter revision on the March ballot,” Roy stated in an agenda memo to the council.
Councilwoman Robyn Helt, who before being elected to the council had served on the charter review committee that proposed most of the new charter provisions, was furious and said the incident illustrates why the proposed change to a city administrator form of government was needed.
“I’d say this is a case in point where the city could benefit from having a city administrator,” she said.
Miller said neither he nor former city attorney Ben Holley could have prevented the error.
“In your system, neither of us could have protected you from this situation,” Miller said. “We’re not part of the review process to reconcile notices and agenda. That’s done administratively in your Administrative Services Department.”
After the council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance repealing the April 9 ordinance, Helt then proposed holding a forensic audit of all ordinances passed over the last five years to assure they were properly advertised.
“I need to make sure the issue was isolated to one particular item,” Helt said. “The purpose of that is to make sure this is not an isolated incident about a matter that is not popular to everybody but is popular to some.”
She then moved to direct city staff “to review and match up with publications the ordinances the council has passed in the last five years,” later amending her motion to have the audit stretch back just four years with a provision that if errors were found, the fifth year of the statute of limitations be examined as well. Helt’s motion passed unanimously.
By its first motion on the matter, the council effectively rendered moot the vote on the new charter, which is the last item on Crestview’s voters’ ballots.
“It will not come off the ballot” because the ballots have already been printed, Miller said. “It will just be an irrelevant ballot item, but it will have no effect.”