WHY PINELLAS COUNTY TERM LIMITS ARE BACK IN THE NEWS
By Robyn Poppick
Published Apr 09, 2013
In 1995-6, a group of people headed up a
movement called Eight is Enough.
They legally obtained signatures to place upon a referendum the ability to
limit the state constitutional officers (sheriff, supervisor of elections,
etc.) and the county commissioners to 2 four year terms. The language for the
referendum was approved (no one can just place any language on a ballot),
placed upon the 1996 ballot and 8 year term limits were voted upon by the
people of Pinellas by a 72.3% majority.
By law, the referendum should have been written into the Pinellas County
Charter no later than January 1, 1997 and become law. That did not happen.
Those in power did not agree with the results
of the vote – they fought the results.
The state constitutional officers and the county commissioners began to
spend taxpayer money to appeal the people’s vote as unconstitutional. The first time they went to court, they
lost and term limits were upheld.
The county commissioners voted not to pursue any more appeals at that
time and withdrew from any subsequent joint appeals process with the state
constitutional officers on May 30, 2000.
To make a long appeals process story short and simplify the results, eventually,
after other losses, the state constitutional officers, led by then Sheriff
Everett Rice, won their case at the Florida Supreme Court not to have term
limits enacted in Pinellas. That
was not the end of this process.
On or about May 10, 2012 (if you are
counting, that is 16 years after our vote) the Florida Supreme Court receded
its prior decision which then allowed charter counties to finally have term
limits. Recede is when a court states that it has moved away from a
previous position. That previous decision supposedly kept Pinellas from
having its term limits.
What about those counties that already had
term limits voted upon but not yet enacted due to that old ruling, like
Pinellas? They moved quickly, most
of them before the primaries of 2012.
Sarasota had term limits in its charter but the ruling kept them from
enacting them – it was easy for them to transition after May 2012’s ruling
after a citizens group asked for a decision in the courts. In Jacksonville, a politician running
again for a constitutional officer’s seat was removed from the ballot in 2012
due to term limits. In Duval
County, a judge ensured that they can have their term limits. What about Pinellas County that had 2
commissioners running again who already exceeded 8 years of service?
By the end of May 2012, Save Pinellas, a
group of concerned citizens, stepped in. Save Pinellas forced a public meeting
and asked questions. Save Pinellas
forced the County Commission to put this issue on the agenda for one of its
meetings. The result was that the
commissioners felt there should be another referendum. Another referendum? The one that was voted upon by a
majority hasn’t been acknowledged in the charter yet! Save Pinellas asked that it not be considered until the 1996
referendum was settled.
4 out of 7 commissioners already exceeded 8
years in their seats. They are Ken
Welch, John Morroni, Karen Seel (who was one of the commissioners who voted in
2000 not to go forward with the appeals and to follow the public’s will) and of
course, Susan Latvala. Not one of
them stepped down after the ruling in May of 2012 and two ran again for their
Not giving up, in June of 2012, three Save
Pinellas members filed suit asking for a determination from the courts. The
three plaintiffs are H. Patrick Wheeler, Beverley Billiris and Maria
Scruggs. They are fighting for the
vote of Pinellas County residents to finally be counted and for term limits to
be adhered to by law. It’s about
the suppression of a vote that occurred in 1996 and the plaintiffs who want the
law followed on behalf of all Pinellas County citizens. Since 2000, the county commissioners no
longer appealed to a higher court after their first loss in court – did the
term limits apply to them all along?
That is a question the plaintiffs are also asking. They are also asking for the removal of
the 4 commissioners who, according to the plaintiffs, are squatters who never
left their seats. This lawsuit is
a “big deal” and has garnered attention from the U.S. Term Limits
Almost a year has passed since the Florida
Supreme Court ruled on its decision to recede from its original ruling and 11
months since the plaintiffs filed suit.
A judge ruled that the lawsuit can move forward based on the arguments
from both parties, after a few changes to the complaint. On May 2, 2013, at 1:30PM at the
Pinellas County Court House Room C at 315 Court Street in Clearwater, the
plaintiffs will have their arguments heard. It is open to the public and the Notice of Hearing asks that
everyone govern themselves accordingly.
would like to donate funds to the plaintiffs, donations can go to Attorney John
Shahan, 536 East Tarpon Avenue Tarpon Springs, FL 34689 and put in the memo
section of the check or money order “term limits lawsuit”.