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South Pasadena mayor files lawsuit asking not to be fired

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Embattled South Pasadena Mayor Dan Calabria is suing the city he works for as well as a fellow city commissioner and an independent lawyer who issued a scathing investigation of Calabria’s behavior as mayor.

Calabria wants a judge to bar the city or City Commission from taking any further action to remove him from office.

City commissioners, including Arthur Penny, who is named in the lawsuit, voted to table an effort to remove Calabria from office during a meeting in March.

The move came after months of political infighting and a report by Port St. Lucie attorney W. Russell Hamilton III painting 79-year-old Calabria as a cantankerous bully.

Chief among complaints is Calabria’s dealings with City Clerk Carley Lewis. Calabria’s position as mayor is largely symbolic because South Pasadena runs a weak-mayor form of government.

His vote carries no more weight than any of the other four commissioners and each oversees a sole city department. Calabria is in charge of administration, which includes Lewis.

The report and previous complaints found that Calabria has filed an unnecessary number of public records requests that have overburdened the clerk’s office. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Calabria filed more requests than the rest of the city combined.

Complaints have also been filed against Calabria with the Florida Commission on Ethics. One complaint, filed by Penny, alleged that Calabria misused his power by pressuring a liquor store owner to remove a sign supporting Penny and another commissioner, Max Elson. The ethics commission found probable cause in that case.

Another complaint – that Calabria disobeyed a commission vote – was dismissed. A third complaint, still pending, looks at whether Calabria violated Sunshine Laws by refusing to release private emails he sent summarizing public meetings.

Even though the commission has tabled consideration of firing Calabria, it could still come up. Calabria’s lawsuit seeks to make sure that doesn’t happen. It also asks for compensation for legal fees.

His lawsuit claims the complaints against him are purely vindictive. The suit alleges “accusations against the Mayor are false and the motion for removal is frivolous.” It also alleges that the attorney hired to investigate Calabria’s conduct as mayor was biased.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that if Calabria were to be voted out of office by the four other commissioners – all four would have to approve the move – he would run for re-election in December and challenge the vote in court.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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