Local News

Council takes no action on election referendum proposal

SEBRING - A proposal to ask Sebring residents to extend the terms of Sebring Council members from three to four years and hold city elections the same day as the general election in November was placed in limbo Tuesday by a tie vote of the council.
Council members Andrew Fells and John Clark favored the binding referendum, while council members Scott Stanley and Bud Whitlock opposed it.
Stanley and Whitlock also voted against tabling the proposal, which led to some uncertainty over what happened to it, since tabling failed to pass on a tie vote.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Whitlock said as to why he opposed the referendum, adding that there's nothing wrong with the current election date in March.
Although Whitlock opposed tabling the proposal, he said other council members could bring it up at future meetings.
The tie came about because Councilman John Griffin was absent and the city charter doesn't allow Mayor George Hensley to cast a tie-breaking vote.
The idea of holding a referendum came about earlier in the year because of what was considered a dismal turnout in the March 2013 election.
About 5 percent of the voters turned out for the March election in which Griffin and Stanley were re-elected.
Some said that more people vote in the November election and that would translate into more votes in the city elections. Others have said the city election would get lost among the national and state elections.
After the election in March, council members favored holding a non-binding referendum on moving the election to November. Fells said holding a binding referendum would cost more money.
But Fells' opinion changed after learning that while the council can change the election date, voters must approve increasing the terms. With the terms being three years, the elections would not necessarily coincide with the city and state elections.
Fells said he would fail to see the point of holding a non-binding referendum and then having to hold a binding one on changing the terms.
But Stanley, who had initially favored the non-binding referendum, said he couldn't support a binding one.
Fells said that if voters approved a non-binding referendum the expectation would be that the city leaders would carry out what the voters wanted.
With a non-binding referendum, the city wouldn't have to do anything, Stanley said.
When nobody would second the motion to table the proposal, Fells, the council president, had to pass his gavel to someone else in order to be able to second the motion.
"You've got to be kidding me," he said, about not getting a second.
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