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Drive to make charter changes easier under way

May 22, 2014
Lehigh Acres Citizen

A Cape Coral resident says the city charter is flawed and obsolete, and is so slanted toward government power that it doesn't give residents a fair opportunity to petition to have it changed.

So, he's petitioning to have it changed.

Jack Mattachione is circulating a petition called the "Freedom Amendment," which he hopes to get the more than 10,000 signatures - or 10 percent of the registered voters in the last election - required to get it on the ballot for the next local election.

Mattachione's goal is to lower that threshold to the same amount you need to get a state representative on the ballot - or about 1,056 signatures - to make it easier for petitions to succeed and make it so the city council must put any proposed tax increase up to the voters.

Mattachione believes such a charter amendment could have stopped the controversial fire assessment and the public service tax from passing last year.

"My goal is to make the government accountable, and the charter amendment requires 10,276 signatures just to get it on the ballot," Mattachione said. "The city council can do that with an ordinance, but it gets kicked around and watered down and does not give the people any powers."

Forms were filed as directed by the City Clerk of Cape Coral on April 15, which is significant since Mattachione's mission is "to fight taxation with a ballot vote and an effort to limit an abusive government that seems to oppress the freedom of speech."

Mattachione said he doesn't know how many have signed to date, but that he has numerous people on the job getting signatures.

Mattachione said his experience as a former elected official in Ohio lends credence to his claim. He put numerous charter amendments on the ballot, which all passed above and beyond what the city council did.

"It took power away from the government and they don't like to have power taken away. That's why it's called the Freedom Amendment," Mattachione said.

Currently, Mattachione said, to petition to stop a tax in the city, you need 15,000 signatures, and to recall an elected official, you need 20,000.

"A thousand signatures is not easy. The only reason I've gotten this far is because I know what I'm doing. The average citizen has no clue on what they have to file," Mattachione said.

In 2007, a similar amendment was put together to reduce the referendum rights in the charter from 15 percent to 5 percent, but failed.

City Councilmember Rana Erbrick said the city is putting together a procedure regarding these kind of petitions, since currently they don't have a process for them. Lee County does, where such submissions go to the supervisor of elections, Sharon Harrington.

Erbrick said the council has chosen to empanel a charter review commission and is taking requests from citizens who are interested.

She also said any charter amendment has to be looked at cautiously.

"These are very serious things, and need to look toward the future because if they're too restrictive, it's difficult to change because you only get a shot every two years," Erbrick said.

Erbrick said that such an amendment could result in numerous referendums being put up to vote every local election year and that could hamstring the city and its ability to collect revenue.

"If all those were to get on the ballot, you have tied the hands of your elected officials to the point where you'll kill your city," Erbrick said. "If this is the outcome you want, this is the quickest way to do it."



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