All three Ocala city charter amendments on the ballot during the Sept. 21 citywide elections were approved by a majority of voters.
The charter amendment titled: Scheduling of Special Elections or Run-Off Elections was approved by a total of 6,313 votes or 71.25%.
The proposed change would make the timing of special and run-off elections more flexible to allow for the transit time of certain ballots.
Currently, the charter requires that special elections be held less than 60 days following a vacancy. Meanwhile, run-off elections are to be held on the third Tuesday of November following a September election.
The amended requirements would allow those elections to be held “as soon as reasonably practicable and in compliance with state and federal law.”
The issue came up after Tyrone Oliver was elected to the council in November 2019. Later, he was found ineligible to take the seat because he was a convicted felon and did not have his rights restored. A series of special elections eventually led to Councilman Ire Bethea taking the District 2 seat. But during the process, the charter’s provisions conflicted with the time frame allowed for military personnel serving abroad to return their ballots.
For the charter amendment titled: Beginning and End of Terms for Council Members and Mayor, 79.60% of voters, or 7,041, agreed with the change.
The 2019 Oliver election also revealed the need to clarify when council and mayoral terms begin and end.
The charter is fuzzy on the issue.
An attorney for Oliver noted the charter states the new council takes over on the first Tuesday in December in an election year. The phrase implies the former council is out of power at midnight on the first Tuesday.
By that argument, the council that decided not to seat Oliver on that first Tuesday was technically out of power and unable to make the decision. The question led to a second council vote to avoid a legal challenge.
The change provides that the terms for council members and the mayor officially start when they are “adjudged, elected and qualified by City Council and upon swearing an oath of office.”
Terms would officially end at the commencement of a successor’s term.
For the charter amendment titled: Revising Masculine Pronouns to Include the Feminine Equivalent, voters decided 57.85% to 42.15% to approve.
The intention of the revision was to adjust the language in the city’s charter, dating from the 1970s, so it reflected the expanded roles of women in certain male-dominated positions.
In addition to changing terms like “councilman” to “council member” and “policeman” to “police officer,” the initial proposed amendment would have also eliminated the pronouns he and his. In the current charter document, all officials are referred to as “he,” including the city manager, who is currently a woman.
But the proposal as introduced quickly drew backlash with some worried it was a backdoor attempt to move toward the use of non-gender pronouns, which have gained momentum among advocates and some linguists.
Eventually, the council revised the proposal so that gender would remain, but mentioning both ‘he or she.’ The use of both masculine and feminine pronouns is common in most government founding documents, including the Florida Constitution.