City voters will decide if commissioners have to meet residence requirement

In their own inimitable way, city management in St Augustine has found another distraction from the urgent needs of residents, business owners, and the community, to waste time chasing an election procedure change; apparently aimed at limiting competition among candidates for the city’s five commission seats.  In a recent companion proposal, the commission voted not to place a question on city ballots that would change how the mayor is chosen.

Nonetheless, over the skepticism of current mayor Tracy Upchurch, who said, “I don’t know that I think it’s a great, burning issue”, Monday night the commission passed a referendum that would further restrict who can run for office in St Augustine on first reading.

If the matter comes back to the commission table in time for a public hearing and second reading, city voters in the Presidential Preference Election on March 17, 2020, will decide if candidates for a seat on the St Augustine city commission will be required to have lived within the city limits continuously, and maintained voter registration within the city limits, for at least one-year before they qualify for election.

If most voters agree, the new restrictions will apply to city commission candidates during the August 18, 2020, Primary Election and November 3, 2020, General Election for Seat 1 (Roxanne Horvath), Seat 2 (Leanna Freeman), or Seat 3 (Tracy Upchurch).

Historic City News confirmed that the current Charter of the City of St Augustine does not specify how long a candidate or appointee must be a resident before qualifying for election.  The amendment also requires commissioners to maintain their physical residence and voter registration in the city limits while in office.  And, if appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission, like the current mayor, to meet the same residency requirements as elected members.

Rather than properly convene a Charter Review Committee to identify all areas of the charter that might need updating, the city attorney is bringing piecemeal charter revisions to the commission.  Some charter changes can be made without a referendum.  Adding qualifications to hold elected office, however, requires voter approval.  City voters will also decide whether to extend the term length of police and fire department representatives on the Civil Service Board from one-year to three-years.