A Treasure Island resident has sued the city because he believes officials are illegally spending tax money to influence a political campaign.
Ken Weiss is asking a judge to order the city to stop spending money on a referendum that would increase the height and density of buildings in some areas of Treasure Island. Weiss is also asking that judge order City Manager Reid Silverboard to pay back “all such illegal expenditures.”
Silverboard could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit arises from three of the six referenda questions on Treasure Island’s Nov. 8 ballot. Those three involve potential changes that would increase the height and density of buildings in some areas of the city.
Weiss, an attorney who is representing himself, says in his suit that, when commissioners voted to put the items on the ballot, they said the decision whether to increase height and density was up to the voters. However, Weiss says, Silverboard has spent $15,000 of taxpayer money on a campaign urging voters to say “yes” to the referenda.
It is against state laws that forbid the expenditure of municipal funds “for a political advertisement or electioneering communication concerning an issue, referendum” unless it is limited to factual information. Weiss alleges that flyers and other information sent out by the city go further than merely presenting factual information. Instead, they actively solicit “yes” votes.
Silverboard violated that law, Weiss alleges, by signing a “political campaign agreement” with a company to come up with a strategy and campaign to get the referenda passed. And, he says, the campaign itself has “disseminated materially misleading printed and other materials which were intended to convince the voters to approve the referendum issues to increase height and density.”
Weiss also alleges that Silverboard violated city rules and policies by spending more than the $10,000 limit without getting approval from the City Council.
Weill refers to Step Forward Treasure Island, a group that, he says, is a political committee funded primarily by developers to convince voters to approve the increases.” Weiss charges that Silverboard allowed Step Forward to use Treasure Island’s official seal and portions of its electioneering communications in Step Forward’s political materials.
“Much of the developer committee political materials are so similar to the city’s materials that, with the city seal, it appears that the city is endorsing a vote to approve the referendum issues,” Weiss said.Weiss attached a yellow flyer with the Treasure Island seal and the words “Treasure Island Vote Yes on all 6 referenda to boost our economy” as an exhibit to make his point.
Weiss attached a yellow flyer with the Treasure Island seal and the words “Treasure Island Vote Yes on all 6 referenda to boost our economy” as an exhibit to make his point.
“It appears that Silverboard and the city have illegally coordinated the dissemination of electioneering communications with Step Forward Treasure Island,” Weiss says in the suit.
Weiss concludes his argument:
“Silverboard and the city have bombarded the voters with months of ‘education’ as a result of the illegal expenditures. Silverboard and the city have intruded into every civic association in the city by haranguing the people, who were there for a social purpose, to vote for the referendum.
“Illegal expenditures by the government intended to influence the electoral process cannot be tolerated. Contrary to the values guaranteed by both the United States and Florida Constitutions such expenditures are inherently anti-democratic and, if permitted, will poison the electoral process.
“Our electoral process is sacrosanct. At what risk to our democracy to we permit the government to use taxpayer funds to ‘educate’ us on how to vote using only the facts it deems to be the truth?