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Venice Council goes ahead with election referendum

Written by on Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The vote for the controversial measure was expected. But there was one wrinkle.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: June 12, 2024

Host:The City of Venice Council finalized it yesterday: In a controversial referendum, Venice voters will decide whether they want to move their local elections to coincide with general elections. The move was expected, but there was a wrinkle, as Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: There was a final showdown at Venice City Hall on Tuesday on a controversial matter. And the result was not unexpected.

On a first reading back on May 28, Venice City Council members voted five to two to move ahead on a proposed Nov. 5 referendum. It would ask city voters to approve a change in term length for council members from three years to four years. This would end the practice of sending voters to the polls every year. Venice elections would thus be conducted in even years, to coincide with county, state and national elections.

Proponents say the change would save money for the city. They also say continuing three-year terms put some city council seats up for election every odd-numbered year, with those races the only ones in the county.

Opponents say it is an attempt to make Venice City Council elections more partisan. They believe less frequent elections means less accountability. Those opposed include City Council Members Ron Smith and Joan Farrell, and Venice Thrives, a local citizen group.

The November referendum needed a second reading, with the City Council members again voting to put it on the ballot. That took place on Tuesday. The Council this time voted four to three in favor of the referendum. In a surprise move, Vice Mayor Jim Boldt switched sides, joining Ron Smith and Joan Farrell in voting ‘nay’ on the referendum. Smith and Farrell also cast ‘no’ on the first reading.

Boldt said the process needs to be slowed down, as opponents called for the council to at least get input from the Charter Review Committee or the Citizen Advisory Board, before placing the election referendum on the ballot in November.

Jim Boldt

Jim Boldt: All right, let’s slow it down. Nobody said I had to be done this year. It was a strong suggestion that the sooner, the better. I understand that completely, I want people to have confidence in what we do. I really am getting kind of overwhelmed by the amount of negativity, and I’ve said this before from the dais, the amount of negativity that is coming out of groups here, and we don’t need that. We need confidence in what we’re doing up here in order to get the confidence back. I think one of the things that makes sense to me right now is to back off of this just a little bit. Have somebody else review it, let them come back to us and say yea or nay. 

RL: Boldt was joined by former Venice Mayor John Holic in seeking to ‘put on the brakes’. He said the handling of the matter was ‘flawed’.

John Holic: Don’t kid yourself about this. Being nonpartisan, both Republicans and Democrats have spent a lot of money on our elections, and they’ll find it easier to continue to interfere with City of Venice elections. If we go to the four-year cycle, you’re using an excuse of putting this non-issue on the ballot to the people in the form of a charter amendment. It is the old I wash my hands of this issue.

RL: Holic was backed up by Jackie Mineo and Ruth Cordner.

Jackie Mineo: You pushed through a hastily manufactured, uneven ordinance that’s totally self serving. Those are tough words to say. I don’t like being overly negative, but it’s true a simple selfish act.

Ruth Cordner: With all due respect, I think your actions are truly shameless and unconscionable.

RL: Joan Farrell has asked the state attorney general for an opinion on the change. And Ron Smith argued against the referendum.

Ron Smith: I do believe that one of the core problems here, is that this was rushed, and I appreciate very much the vice mayor’s comments that perhaps that’s the case, and perhaps we should just take a moment. It’s just not ready for prime time yet. I think that it needs to be sent back to this, an advisory board, the charter review board somewhere, so that it can be further considered and refined. Because I think there are very serious problems with the wording that we’ve got before us on the ballot question, but also in the supporting documents,

RL: But Mayor Nick Pachota wasn’t swayed by the referendum nay-sayers.

Nick Pachota: This is not a win-win. There is nothing but a lose-lose here in this seat, as far as making this decision. The only thing that I can tell you is that in the past five years, the best win-win I’m looking at is the voters are going to get to make the choice. And that just makes total sense to me. Why would I diminish the meaning of somebody’s vote at the ballot box? I don’t understand that piece, and so far, nobody has come up and told me why somebody doesn’t have the right to vote. There’s enough people that say they want this to be on the ballot. So that’s where I go with it.

RL: Pachota said he looks forward to seeing what the voters say in November.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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