Panama City Beach OKs 2nd reading of 27 city charter changes, still some work left before April vote

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — Local officials are continuing their efforts to revamp the almost 52-year-old Panama City Beach City Charter.

During a City Council meeting on Thursday, leaders approved the second reading for 27 changes to the charter that were proposed last year by the Charter Review Advisory Committee.

According to information provided by the city, the changes will be condensed into about eight or nine amendments, which councilmen will consider during their Jan. 27 meeting. If approved, residents will then vote on the amendments in April.

During a City Council meeting on Thursday, local leaders approved the second reading for 27 changes to the Panama City Beach City Charter that were proposed last year.
During a City Council meeting on Thursday, local leaders approved the second reading for 27 changes to the Panama City Beach City Charter that were proposed last year.

"The charter is (almost) 52 years old, (and) there have been (only) 11 updates over the years, and these were all placed on the ballot, as the law requires, and were approved by the electorate," Councilman Paul Casto wrote in an email. "Over several months, the Citizen Charter Review Advisory Committee has been meeting to look at what needs updating in order to bring the city up with the current times."

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The original 27 changes, which have been refined since they were first introduced, include:

  • Add language to address role and duties of assistant city manager.

  • Clarify that public hearings are only available upon removal of city manager "for cause."

  • Make performance evaluations mandatory for all charter officers.

  • Include statement regarding existing debt.

  • Provide for adoption of prior year budget if council cannot timely approve current year budget.

  • Authorize city manager to spend up to $100,000 cumulatively to address emergency circumstances.

  • Authorize electronic and digital signatures.

  • Authorize city council to designate someone other than the city manager to execute contracts.

  • Increase city manager purchasing authority from $10,000 to $25,000.

  • Increase the threshold that requires competitive bidding from $10,000 to $25,000.

  • Increase the threshold that requires competitive bidding from $10,000 to $25,000, and expand this provision to apply to the purchase of services.

  • Increase publication period for bids from 14 days to 21 days.

  • Increase the period in which bids must remain firm from 30 days to 45 days.

  • Expand list of entities whose contracts can be piggybacked and broaden the criteria that makes contracts eligible to be piggybacked.

  • Place a cap of $50,000 on sole source purchases.

  • Establish a city-wide exemption for competitive procurement for software and IT-related goods and services.

  • Authorize the Civil Service Board to be made up of less than five members, but requiring no less than three members.

  • Delete portion of charter that addresses Civil Service Board compensation.

  • Authorize delegation to the secretary of the Civil Service Board the administration of oaths.

  • Delete portion of charter regarding selection of city employees.

  • Delete portion of charter regarding limits of inquiry.

  • Require employees interested in civil service membership to be examined by the civil service secretary for eligibility.

  • Delete portion of charter regarding job promotions.

  • Delete portion of charter regarding filling of vacancies.

  • Require civil service secretary, rather than the Civil Service Board, to maintain a preferred list of employees who shall be given priority for re-employment.

  • Delete immorality, drunkenness and failure to meet financial obligations as causes for discipline.

  • Increase residency requirement for public officials from six to 12 months.

A couple of the key changes deal with the city manager's authority. One gives the city manager the power to make emergency purchases up to $100,000 and another lets him make regular purchases up to $25,000.

Casto and Karen Ellis, finance director for the city, wrote in an email that these changes are very important.

"We found out during (Hurricane Michael) how important (it) is (for) decisions ... to be made quickly and especially today, when items are in short supply and costly," Casto wrote.

"Some cities and counties have purchasing thresholds as high as $250,000," Ellis wrote. "We're asking the voters to allow the city manager to be able to make (regular) purchases up to $25,000. That's a small increase and is in line with other local communities' purchasing limits."

Councilman Geoff McConnell, who served as chairman of the Charter Review Advisory Committee, said that it is important to note that this was the first time the charter was reviewed by a committee of residents.

McConnell also said that if the amendments are approved by the council next meeting, they will then be sent to the Bay County Supervisor of Elections to prepare for the upcoming vote.

"These residents (in the committee) gave many hours of their time and worked with our staff on various levels to decide what changes needed to be implemented," he wrote in an email. "This committee represented residents from all four of the city's wards and we appreciate their time in this process."

This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Panama City Beach Florida approves 2nd reading of city charter changes