How the upcoming May 1 special election could alter the way Ormond Beach conducts elections.
The upcoming special election will decide more than just whether or not a half-cent sales tax will pass countywide — Ormond Beach voters will also get a say on how City Commission elections are conducted, and how long officials will be in office.
Ballots for local residents will feature four additional referendum questions. The first asks if terms of office should be increased from two years (how it stands currently) to four years. The second question proposes staggered terms of office, meaning the mayoral and two commission seats will be up for election in the next general election, and the other two commission seats will be up for election in the following midterm election. However, to pass the staggering of terms, voters must also vote for four year terms. If the four year term referendum fails, the staggering referendum will be null.
The third referendum question proposes the city participate in a primary election if there are more than two candidates for any commission race. This one can pass on its own, without needing yes votes on the other ballot questions.
The final question on the ballot proposes term limits in which no commissioner or mayor can serve more than three four-year terms. It would not affect a commissioner wanting to run for mayor after his three terms were up. For this referendum to pass, voters would need to approve four year terms.
Lisa Lewis, Volusia County Supervisor of Elections, said what's important is that people can vote for what they want. If they don't want to vote on a question because they don't understand it, or simply don't want to partake in that particular referendum, they don't have to.
“It doesn’t invalidate what they did vote for," Lewis said. "If they want to vote on only one of the questions, and not the others, that is fine also.”
The ballots will be mailed on May 1, and this is one of the first all mail-in election Lewis remembers in recent county history.
Looking to the past
The city of Ormond Beach has had four year terms in the past, albeit very briefly.
In 1993, a referendum for increasing the then-current two year terms of office four year terms passed. By 1999, the referendum was reversed with a 56% majority, as 1,462 votes were cast in favor of returning to two-year terms, and 1,142 votes were cast against the reversal, Lewis said.
During that time, four commissioners served a four-year term: the late David Hood, current Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis, David Schecter and Jeff Boyle.
Boyle said in an email that he and Ed Kelley were elected to a two-year term in the 1993 elections while Hood, Persis and Schecter were elected to four-year terms, as staggering took effect. In the 1997 election, Boyle was re-elected for a four-year term, along with the late Frank Gillooly, who defeated Kelley. Gillooly wouldn't complete his four year term, however, as he resigned after two years to unsuccessfully run for mayor against Persis.
Boyle, the last commissioner to serve a four-year term, said he led the 1999 referendum initiative because he believed the wording of the question led voters to believe four-year terms were already in place, and that they just voting to stagger them.
"I have always been against four-year terms for Ormond Beach commissioners," said Boyle in an email. "Two-year terms are adequate for the State Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Elections for every seat every two years provides a healthy examination of changing city issues and provide greater accountability from our elected officials."
He also believes staggering elections would also give greater influence to campaign contributions, which are "already a growing problem," he said. A referendum for four-year terms was brought back in 2005. It also failed.
Persis said that, having served in the city, County Council and now School Board, what makes the most sense is staggered four-year terms. Staggered two-year terms could be argued for, but Persis said that would mean yearly elections that would cost a lot of money and result in low voter turnout. Staggered four-year terms helps with government efficiency, he said.
“This way you have that assurance that you’ll have at least a couple of people on the commission from the previous commission that have sense of history and know why we are where we are on a number of issues," Persis said.
Two-year terms vs. Four-year terms
Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington said he believes it's healthy for a city to review its policies every 10 or 15 years to determine if it should keep doing things a certain way, or if it's time for a change.
Having four-year terms, he said, would allow for more stability in government and the opportunity to get things done in one term of office. That's difficult the way elections are structured now, Partington said. Officials could get voted out before seeing a project or initiative through.
“It’s just such a short length of time that makes it difficult to get anything done, and you’re constantly running for re-election in that short period of time," Partington said.
Partington also said that typically, most commissioners will serve on the commission at least four years total.
Boyle called the argument of losing institutional knowledge "ludicrous," saying a complete turnover in local government has never happened.
"Equally unlikely is the idea that newly elected commissioners would reverse policies like a prioritized list of road and water quality projects," Boyle said. "Another argument, that we should have four-year terms because other cities have them, goes against our 120 year tradition of two-year terms. We already have term limits. They're called elections, a healthy exercise in our democracy."
Boyle said the ballot questions favor the incumbents if they pass. He also questioned the city's decision to place the referendum on a mail-in ballot.
Partington isn't concerned with voter turnout, as people vote by mail during regular elections anyway.
“I’m interested to see exactly how it goes, because I feel like as a country we’re moving more toward convenience-oriented voting, whether its internet, or phone or mail," Partington said.