Orange County commissioners voted late Tuesday to ask voters to make constitutional officers such as the sheriff and tax collector term-limited, nonpartisan races.
Commissioners already had agreed in May to place those questions affecting the sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, clerk of courts and comptroller on the Nov. 4 ballot. But the commission reopened the issue to decide whether the two questions should be combined, and whether to add a third wrinkle: changing “constitutional officers” to “charter officers.”
Several of those elected officials spoke against the switch to charter officers, saying it would erode their independence.
“We must look on this with skepticism, as it is apparent there is a hidden agenda,” Sheriff Jerry Demings wrote in a letter to commissioners.
The switch to charter officers was dropped. But commissioners moved forward with the plan to combine two changes — choosing constitutional officers in nonpartisan elections and limiting them to four, four-year terms — into a single question.
So why the change? Critics suggested tying them together was a strategy to increase the chances they’ll pass, because voters generally support term limits.
Michele Levy, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, accused commissioners of “playing politics.”
“It’s childish and it’s insulting to the voters of Orange County,” she said.
Mayor Teresa Jacobs insisted combining the questions won’t make them less clear.
“I don’t think they’re confusing,” she said. “The voters can either vote for the question or they can vote against the question.”
Activist Stephanie Porta criticized the move to make the offices nonpartisan, predicting it would disenfranchise voters. If approved, those offices would move to the August primary ballot, when turnout is far lower, particularly among minorities.
The vote came at about 10:15 p.m., prompting criticism that commissioners were taking action after most citizens had gone home. At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Fred Brummer proposed considering another ballot question at a future commission meeting: Eliminating the elected position of tax collector altogether. Brummer’s surprise motion died for lack of a second.
Still, voters can expect a crowded ballot, including four questions already approved. Two were proposed by a group that gathered signatures to get them on the ballot:
•Whether the county mayor and commissioners should be chosen in partisan elections; they are currently nonpartisan races.
•Whether all countywide charter offices should be elected in presidential election years starting in 2016. It would only affect the county mayor; Jacobs’ current term would be cut short but she could run again.
Two others were proposed by the commission:
•Whether to prohibit citizen initiatives that would regulate employer wages.
•Whether to give commissioners more time before they must put a citizen initiative before voters.