The City of Charlotte County
Or…A Tale of One City.
As we drive our local roads in Charlotte County we pass through many localities that some believe are towns. We see Charlotte Harbor, Englewood, Punta Gorda, Murdock, Port Charlotte, Deep Creek, and other areas. Many people assume that these are independent municipalities within Charlotte County, but in fact most are not. Remarkably, the only incorporated city within the county is Punta Gorda. The rest are localities whose names arose over time. We sometimes assume that because our post office or zip code has a name we live in that city or town. Per the song from Porgy and Bess: It Ain’t Necessarily So!
An incorporated city or village typically provides numerous services to its residents. These usually include police and fire protection, water and sewer utilities, streets and sidewalks and many others. The municipality also enacts ordinances to control such things as construction, development, general appearance of the town, and laws regulating personal conduct to maintain peace and order.
Usually smaller municipalities are somewhat homogeneous, but with variations in different neighborhoods. Because the elected officials are dealing with only a few neighborhoods, it is much easier for them to get their arms around individual issues and needs and address them on a case by case basis. A look into Punta Gorda will show how a smaller area can be governed with a much more tailor-made approach and with much more involvement of the residents. The city’s recovery from Hurricane Charlie and the resultant improvements is a case in point.
Now consider our Charlotte County. Much of its land is developed in the sense that it is not farmland or vacant acreage, but rather residential and commercial properties. Since the services typically provided by municipalities are lacking, the county must pick up the slack and, therefore, act like a city – The City of Charlotte County. But a county government put into the position of providing municipal services can never provide them as well as a city. The main reason is that it is spread very thin throughout its area. The needs of tourist properties along beaches are different from those along, say, Tamiami Trail. An example is the current controversy over the sign ordinance. A municipality easily could tailor the regulations to the specific needs and desires of the residents and businesses. Theoretically the county could too, but since it is spread so thin, the result is most likely a hodgepodge because the county does best when overseeing a broad area with homogeneous needs. The medical district project is another that would best be handled by a local municipality, but there is none.
This analysis is not meant to be a criticism of Charlotte County government, but rather a compliment considering how well it does under adverse circumstances. The county commissioners are dealing with numerous issues often delving into minutiae which would be better handled by local governments. Although the MSBU’s can help, the task is daunting nevertheless. The organization that county administrator Ray Sandrock leads is faced with attempting to apply all the regulations throughout the county; residential, commercial, agricultural, and rural. Keeping one’s sanity must be a real challenge especially when many are forced to operate under the onerous provision of the Sunshine Law which criminalizes their discussions outside of official meetings and knowing that there are ghouls waiting in the wings to gleefully dismember them if they do so.
Many of the northern transplanted residents have seen how local municipalities work in concert with county government, but alas such is not the case here and the odds of creating more local governances with the county are slim or none. In the meantime, we continue to operate as The City of Charlotte County.
Anthony J. Biell
June 28, 2011