Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

As election looms, so does Pinellas Commission term limit question

Pinellas County voters may go to the polls this November unsure if they legally can return some of their county commissioners to office.

With less than eight weeks to go until the Nov. 6 election, a lawsuit challenging the right of four commissioners to remain in office is slowly winding its way through the courts. Filed in June by three Pinellas residents, it accuses the elected officials of violating eight-year term limits that were approved by voters in 1996, but never enacted.

One of the commissioners named in the suit, Ken Welch, is on the November ballot. Another, Karen Seel, is running for office unopposed. If both are blocked from running before the election takes place, Seel's seat would be filled by a special election and the Democratic Party would have the right to appoint a replacement for Welch. It is unclear how they would be affected by a ruling after the election results are in.

Commissioners Susan Latvala and John Morroni are also part of the challenge, but they do not face re-election this year.

On Thursday, lawyers for the county warned that the suit could be months away from resolution, especially if the plaintiffs decide to dig into its complicated origins.

To move the case along, Pinellas County attorney Jack Powell argued in favor of not holding a full trial. If the case is decided by a summary judgment, the county's attorneys could be ready to argue it in a month. But it could take more than 90 days for a full-fledged trial, he said.

Chief Judge J. Thomas McGrady also brought up the time element. Mail ballots in Pinellas County go out Oct. 2.

"Believe me, I want to get this case resolved and resolved quickly for everyone's sake, so that the commissioners know where they stand and public knows where they stand," he said.

Judge John Schaefer has been assigned to the case.

Speaking after the hearing, plaintiff H. Patrick Wheeler, an East Lake resident who voted for term limits in 1996, said he hoped the case would go to trial. He also wants to see it resolved before the election, he said.

Wheeler and fellow plaintiffs Maria Scruggs and Beverley Billiris have accused the commission of skirting the law to prevent term limits from becoming part of the county's charter. Typically, once voters approve a referendum, it is inserted into the charter.

A trial would "disclose the skullduggery by the county commissioners," Wheeler said.

Sarah Richardson, a Pinellas County attorney, said the referendum never became law because it was challenged in court, putting in place an automatic stay.

As election looms, so does Pinellas Commission term limit question 09/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 9:51am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]