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Pinellas Charter Review Commission unanimously votes against including recall provisions

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

Proponents of recall provisions for elected officers in Pinellas County may have cause for both celebration and defeat.

During Pinellas’ January 6 charter review commission meeting, board members examined the topic, but unanimously voted against further pursuing it — and ultimately against adding it to the 2016 ballot — deciding that the measure is already enforced enough throughout the county.     

According to Florida Statute, any member of the governing body of a municipality or charter county “may be removed from office by the electors of the municipality.”

The statute goes on to state that, “all municipal charter and special law provisions which are contrary to the provisions of this act are hereby repealed to the extent of this conflict.”

It later says, “this act shall apply to cities and charter counties whether or not they have adopted recall provisions.”

In the words of the CRC’s hired legal council, Wade C. Vose, of Vose Law Firm, “it is important to note that the members of the Pinellas County Commission are presently subject to recall pursuant to Florida law.”

So even if the CRC did decide on the addition of a recall provision to the Pinellas County Charter, it wouldn’t have any immediate effect on whether or not Pinellas County Commission members are subject to recall.

However, in the event that the Legislature reverses course and once again makes the recall statute applicable only to those cities and charter counties that opt in — as was state law before 1990 — the addition of a recall provision to the Pinellas County Charter would allow members of the Pinellas County Commission to be recalled.

Although — and here’s where things get a little hairy — the same Florida Statute (Section 100.361) actually does not address the recall of county constitutional officers, but rather subjects only “member[s] of the governing body of a municipality or charter county” to removal by the electors.

Despite this legal loophole, and according to the Attorney General, that an officer is omitted from this statute does not prevent them from being subject to recall via charter provision, though.

“The governor does have the authority to remove a person from office for malfeasance or illegal acts. And that has happened,” said Pinellas County Clerk Ken Burke. “Throughout our history it’s happened on numerous occasions — when crimes have been committed, or when [the elected officer] has not showed up at the office to carry out their duties, the governor has removed them […] So there is a provision there to protect the citizens.”

Added Pinellas Park Mayor Sandra Bradbury just before the board voting the measure down: “So the governor can remove our constitutional officers, and there’s already a Florida Statute that says county commissioners are subject to recall … Sooo … We would put it in our charter because … ?”

Both other possible charter amendments on the CRC’s January 6 agenda were voted against as well.

A measure that would have changed language of the human rights section of the Pinellas Charter to say “gender and sexual orientation,” and not just “sex,” in hopes of protecting people who identify as transgender.

However, and like the recall procedure issue, the board found that the county had enough protections in place, thanks to a 2013 ordinance passed by Pinellas County Commission which struck the word “sex” from the county’s anti-discrimination policy and replaced it with “gender,” which the ordinance defines as “sex, pregnancy, [and] childbirth,” as well as “gender-related self-identity, self-image, appearance, expression or behavior.”

The issue of whether or not to change constitutional officer elections to nonpartisan elections was also shot down unanimously.

Constitutional officers include the state attorney, sheriff, clerk of the circuit court, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, and the public defender.

The 13-member commission — primarily appointed by county commissioners — has until July to decide what, if anything, should go on the 2016 ballot for a vote.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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