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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Jul. 29, 2021 1 year ago

Winter Garden addresses board term limits

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Commissioners are considering an ordinance that would eliminate term limits for a handful of city boards.
by: Danielle Hendrix Former Associate Editor

Winter Garden commissioners are moving forward with an ordinance that addresses the term limits of several city boards.

City leaders approved the first reading of Ordinance 21-15 during their July 22 commission meeting. The ordinance applies to the city’s Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Board, Code Enforcement Board, and Planning & Zoning Board, and it would eliminate current term limits.

“Currently, Code Enforcement Board members are limited to serve no more than two consecutive, three-year terms,” Community Development Director Steve Pash said. “The same condition exists for Planning & Zoning board members. The ARB members are limited to serve no more than two consecutive (two)-year terms. … This ordinance eliminates the term limits, and the board members will serve at the will of the commission. The ordinance also clarifies that on the Planning & Zoning Board, the members present can be counted for the purposes of establishing a quorum regardless of whether they recuse themselves from a vote.”

If approved, the City Commission still would be able to remove members at will, with or without cause, if necessary. 

Commissioner Colin Sharman said the board he considers “the hot seat” is Planning & Zoning, and it’s the only one he would consider keeping that way.

“I know just like anything time changes, and there was a time where we had an overwhelming majority of people want to serve … and we struggle to fill some of the latter boards as of late,” Sharman said. “Here’s the reason why for Planning & Zoning for me. It’s tough when you’ve got somebody who’s done a good job and so many people in line for them to be able to say that, ‘Whatever, we’re going to get you off (the board),’ especially if you’ve done a good job. It’s easy to reappoint them. 

“But the ordinance — the way I originally put that together — allowed them to come off one term, someone else could fill it, and if there was another vacancy, they could come back on again,” he said. “It just made a break to get someone in there. I’m not in favor of term limiting for life. I’m always like, ‘Hey, come back. We need good citizens.’ Someone might have served on a board once and could certainly serve again.”

Mayor John Rees said he had no problem with not having term limits but said he would like to try a different way of advertising board vacancies in the future in hopes of increasing the candidate pool.

“Remember, the purpose is to appoint the best people to these boards to do the best job for the city of Winter Garden, because the decisions they make we will be looking at for the next 20, 30, 40 years,” Rees said. “So that’s the No. 1 priority, is getting good, qualified people.”

Commissioner Lisa Bennett said she believed experience is the most important thing on the city’s boards — not necessarily everyone getting a term.

“If we have someone that’s doing a good job, and we all can agree that our city’s doing great, I’d rather keep the experience, especially on Planning & Zoning,” Bennett said. 

Regarding board diversity, City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said the city will increase vacancy visibility through advertising in hopes of attracting a more diverse pool of candidates.

“That way, we can also work on both issues at the same time: Keep the primary goal as the goal but also do a better job at diversity,” Bollhoefer said. “We’re going to make that a priority of ours and do a better job at that.”

Sharman added he appreciates when citizens attend board meetings.

“I feel like when people are involved and engaged and they come to our board meetings and want to sit through them, it makes me more apt to put them on a board than someone who just filled out an application,” he said.

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Danielle Hendrix was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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