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County mayor question was handled correctly, Buddy Johnson says

TAMPA — Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson said he acted properly in placing a referendum question on the November ballot asking if there should be an elected county mayor.

"As supervisor of elections, I do not have a stake in the outcome of this or any other ballot initiative," Johnson said in a news release Thursday. "My job as the elections administrator is to carry out the prescribed administrative duties properly and in a lawful manner, which is precisely what I have done."

Johnson was announcing his legal response this week to a lawsuit filed earlier this month challenging the ballot placement.

The lawsuit, filed by Hillsborough political activist James Shirk, claims the question cannot legally be placed on the 2008 ballot. It argues that petition forms signed by registered voters were actually collected in 2006, and they said the issue would be considered "in the next general election."

That would have been in 2006.

Backers of the initiative had initially sought to get the question on the 2006 ballot. But Johnson ruled that they failed to collect the 37,202 petition signatures required in order to get it on that ballot.

Johnson let the initial petitions stand until the group could collect enough to meet the threshold for placement on this year's ballot.

He said in his legal response that the group had six months to collect signatures, under the County Charter and state law, and met that deadline. The signatures are good for four years. So he said he was within his authority to apply the petitions collected to certify placement on this year's ballot.

A second count in Shirk's lawsuit also challenges the wording of a ballot description of the decision before voters. Johnson's response said his office has no role in vetting the ballot language.

The group Elected County Mayor Political Committee Inc., which backs the measure, has submitted formal paperwork to intervene in the case, Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard confirmed. He said Johnson came up with the right ruling.

Jennifer Blohm, an attorney for Shirk, notes that details of the measure show it contemplated an election for mayor in 2008. That cannot happen with the question of whether to create the position undecided yet.

Her client initially signed a petition in 2006, but now is opposed to placing the question on the 2008 ballot.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

County mayor question was handled correctly, Buddy Johnson says 07/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2008 11:30pm]
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