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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? Bookmark: _GoBack
 
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 seats.   
 
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 organization.    
 
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.      
 
If anyone 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”.   
 
  
 
 
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