City to look at longer residency requirements for candidates

Image of crowd at Casino meeting.

In September more than 200 Fruitland Park residents showed up for a special City Commission meeting in the city’s 100-year old Casino Community Center on Berckman Street to hear Villages officials lay out their plans to build 2.000 new homes in the city.

Fruitland Park city commissioners Thursday night discussed several potential changes to the city’s charter.

Commissioners want to ease the sudden transition from a city of 4,000 residents—some of whose families have lived in the city for generations—to one wherein a majority of voters will be newly arrived in Villages of Fruitland Park.

George “Mackie” McCabe, chairman of the Charter Review Committee and Vice President of Hospitality in The Villages, told commissioners the advisory board is already focused on developing some sort of  districting plan.

“Our city is in a unique situation,” McCabe told commissioners. A straw poll of charter committee members last Tuesday showed all five members favor dividing the city into districts.

Disclaimer: I am a member of the committee. Everything the committee says and does is public information, public record. Any and all residents are invited to attend every meeting.

Last week McCabe, who grew up in Fruitland Park, announced his support for districting as a way to preserve the city’s character, traditions and history when the Villages of Fruitland Park gets under way.

Commissioner Chris Cheshire, the governing board’s only first-term member, asked whether state law allows city charters to require that candidates live in a city for longer than one year, as the current charter specifies.

City Attorney Scott Gerken said he will study the issue.

“There may be some [statutory] limitations,” Gerken said, “I don’t think you could say 20 years, but then I don’t think the one-year requirement is written in stone either,” he explained.

Commissioners may put charter revisions on the ballot this November, when two commission seats will also be decided.

The city expects 4,000 new residents to start moving in next summer. Most of them will be eligible to vote in the 2016 elections for two commission seats and the mayor’s office.

If a charter amendment this November raises the residency requirement to two years, a Villages of Fruitland Park resident will have to wait until 2018 to stand for a seat on the city commission and 2020 to run for mayor.

That gives Fruitland Park a little longer to adjust to its new majority, and vice-versa.

Legislation and court decisions regarding residency requirements for municipal office are unclear.

The U.S. Constitution provides that members of the House of Representatives must be residents of the United States for seven years, Senators for nine years and the President 14 years.

In state and local elections such requirements get mixed reviews. A 1973 Supreme Court decision upheld a seven-year residency requirement for New Hampshire gubernatorial candidates and two years later okayed the same seven-year residency requirement for state senators.

The following year a lower court struck down a four-year residency requirement to run for the School Board in Fort Worth, Texas.

The issue may surface again at the Charter Review Committee’s next meeting Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. in the city commission chamber.

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