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  • Writer's pictureBurt Sanders

Analyzing the structure of County Government


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On February 27, 2024, I will be requesting the County Commission to conduct a study to determine how best to structure county government for the long-term future as our county continues to grow in population. The last time such an analysis was conducted in Collier County was in 1988. Obviously, much has changed since then. Though the Commission may ultimately decide to do nothing to change how we are structured, I believe it is important, and a valuable exercise, to re-evaluate our governmental structure to make sure we have the most efficient and effective form of governance for the future.


In Florida, all non-charter counties (like Collier County) are divided into five commission districts. There are three basic types of county government structure in Florida:


At-large districts (40 counties), in which each district has a resident Commissioner, with all five Commissioners elected in county-wide elections. In this structure, each commission district is represented by an individual who lives in the district (just like our current system), but all citizens can cast votes for all five commissioners. This structure ensures that each commissioner must consider not only the impacts of decisions on the commissioner’s district, but also the county-wide impacts of those decisions.


Single member districts (20 counties), in which each district has a resident Commissioner who is elected on a district basis, not county-wide. Since 1988 this has been the model used by Collier County. Prior to 1988, Collier County commissioners were elected in county-wide elections.


A mixed district (seven counties) consisting of a combination of five single members (elected on a district-by-district basis) and two at-large commissioners (elected on a county-wide basis).  Proponents of the mixed system claim that it allows two commissioners to bring a county-wide perspective on matters brought before the commission while also allowing the five district-based commissioners to advocate for their specific areas of the County.


To change the structure of county government, a county-wide referendum is required. Only the County Commission is empowered to call such a referendum. Once a study is conducted, the County Commission could schedule such a referendum in the general election in November, 2024. The deadline to schedule such a referendum is August 20, 2024, at which time ballot language must be presented to the Supervisor of Elections.


For much of Collier County’s history, the County operated under the five-member district system with commissioners elected in county-wide elections. On December 1, 1987, the Collier County Commission adopted a resolution calling for a referendum election to be held on March 8, 1988, to submit the following question to the electors of Collier County: “Shall the five members of the Board of County Commissioners of Collier County, Florida, be elected to office from single-member districts by electors residing in each of those districts only?”  By a vote of 14,521 in favor (Yes) to a 13,745 vote against (No), the single-member county commission district referendum passed. Obviously, Collier County has dramatically changed since the 1988 vote with a county population approaching 500,000 and over 256,000 registered voters in the County.


I believe it is time to re-evaluate the structure of county government and to let our citizens determine what is the best type of county governance for the future. Section 124.011(10), Florida Statutes, allows Collier County to return to county-wide elections or adopt the seven-member system with two members elected in county-wide elections and five members elected in district-wide elections. This can only be considered by the voters in a county-wide referendum called for by the county commission.


There are many good reasons to select each of the three systems. For example, there is an argument that at-large systems can have an adverse impact by making it more difficult for minority residents to elect a minority representative to the commission. Though that is certainly a valid and important consideration, many other factors should also be addressed as well in evaluating what is best for all Collier County residents.


My request on February 27 was for the county commission to create a study committee to evaluate the pros and cons of the three governance systems. This committee could be formed very quickly, with each commissioner appointing the members, or this could be assigned to an existing committee, such as the Productivity Committee, for a thorough and timely review. This committee would evaluate the basic types of county governance and the pros and cons of each for consideration by the Commission. In addition, public forums could be scheduled to give citizens the opportunity to hear about the pros and cons of each system.


I want to hear from citizens their thoughts on this proposal. Please email me at Burt.Saunders@colliercountyfl.gov.

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