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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas term limits plaintiffs ask for financial help

25

July

Lawsuits are not cheap — a lesson the three Pinellas county residents have learned after suing a handful of long-time county commissioners over term limits. Now they are asking for help.

The group’s legal bill comes to roughly $30,000, said Beverley Billiris, a former mayor of Tarpon Springs who is a plaintiff in the suit against Commissioners Ken Welch, Susan Latvala, Karen Seel, and John Morroni. At the core of the group’s lawsuit is the charge that these four commissioners have been in office for too long, exceeding the two four-year terms approved by county voters in 1996.

To rally support for their cause and to pay their lawyer, Billiris said she and fellow plaintiff H. Patrick Wheeler have been soliciting contributions from friends. Wheeler has also been handing out flyers in public. The third plaintiff, Maria L. Scruggs, is running for Welch’s seat on the commission.

“We’re just trying to get the word out to help with the lawsuit,” Billiris said. So far, they have raised almost $500 through their committee Save Pinellas.

Plans to attract more supporters are in the works, she said, adding that they are slated to give presentations to groups at the East Lake Library and the Pinellas Park library. They are also appealing to people affiliated with the Tea Party, some of whom came to a commission meeting earlier this week to voice their disapproval.

The deadline for the county to respond to the group’s lawsuit is next Monday. No hearings have been scheduled, but the case has been assigned to Judge Susan Schaefer.

The dispute over term limits in Pinellas County is 16 years old and involves two separate decisions by the Florida Supreme Court. The first one struck down term limits as unconstitutional; the second upheld them as legitimate last May.

In a presentation before the board last month, county attorney Jim Bennett argued that the court’s second decision does not apply to the county commissioners. He said the court's first decision, which invalidated the 1996 term limits referendum, had not been overturned. To put term limits in place for commissioners, the board would either have to approve a change to the charter or hold another referendum.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 4:30pm]

    

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