Leaders of the Florida League of Cities visited Pensacola on Tuesday to deliver a message that if residents like their cities to have control over their own affairs, a concept known as home rule, then they need to make their voices heard to the Florida Legislature.
Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson hosted Orlando Commissioner Tony Ortiz at a joint press conference Tuesday. Ortiz is president of the Florida League of Cities and was in Pensacola to "preach the gospel" of home rule.
"This is a gospel that needs to be preached to the whole state," Ortiz said.
The power of home rule was illustrated in the past few years when the Florida Legislature pre-empted local government's power to regulate small cellphone antennas in public rights of way. Many Pensacola residents were upset to find out a 5G cellphone pole was going up in front of their house, and city officials had limited powers to regulate them.
"Our hands are tied in a lot of ways by what happened (in the Legislature)," Robinson said, adding that home rule for cities is guaranteed by the 1968 Florida Constitution. "The League continues to (have the) position that these pre-emptions shouldn't be done, and that they are really against the '68 Constitution. And that we should have the ability to set our own standards."Ortiz said the pre-emption on small cellphone antennas is likely to remain unchanged unless the Legislature hears from residents.
"If those residents start calling, and those legislators start seeing the masses calling and getting engaged, they're going to start changing," Ortiz said.
Other issues up for debate this year in the Legislature include a bill that further restricts local governments' ability to regulate short-term rentals and puts regulation in the state's hands, as well as a bill that would allow people to operate businesses out of their homes even if that is against city zoning rules.
Ortiz said passage of the bills would create "chaos" in local communities.
Many of the bills the League is opposed to are being put forward by the Republican leadership in the Legislature.
Ortiz, who is a Republican, conceded that the legislators who have been voting in favor of home rule lately have been Democrats, but he still believes home rule is a bipartisan issue.
"I don't know if this is a constant," Ortiz said. "I hope it's not. But we like to engage each and every one of the members to make sure that it's not. Because funny enough, the Republican Party historically has always favored home rule."
Robinson, who also is a Republican, said he agreed and pointed out there isn't a partisan way to fill a pothole. He said he believed partisan politics shouldn't play a role at the local level and was glad Pensacola had non-partisan elections."It's not about parties and sides," Robinson said. "… We are allowing the sides to tear at the fabric of what is most important, and that is community. And that's working together to solve these problems. We've got to pick up garbage. We've got to fill potholes, we've got to do those kind of things to make our community better."
Ortiz said legislators should be representing their communities and talking with residents and local leaders about what's happening in Tallahassee.
"We need to make sure that those in Tallahassee are paying attention and are coming back to the municipalities, talking to the residents and talking to the local elected officials before they go to Tallahassee and legislate on our behalf," Ortiz said.
Jim Little can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-208-9827.
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