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Commissioner Blush sues to thwart recall effort

(ran Beach edition)

Commissioner Barbara Blush says the residents trying to recall her from office have no legal grounds and she has asked a judge to declare their petition invalid.

She filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court seeking a temporary injunction to stop the petition from going any further.

"The voters of Treasure Island have just as important a right to have their elected official serve out their term as the voters have a right to recall their elected officials if proper grounds exist," Blush said last week.

The citizens want Blush removed from office because she voted in October to put new land development regulations in place before the voters went to the polls Nov. 5 to stop future development. Blush joined Mayor Leon Atkinson and Commissioner Butch Ellsworth in rushing to adopt those new laws.

Two weeks later, in an unprecedented turnout, Treasure Island residents voted in favor of a citizen-initiated ordinance requiring that all future height or density changes in the city's LDRs be approved by a majority of the city's registered voters.

Blush said she voted for the earlier legislation because of that high threshold on the referendum.

Circuit Judge Thomas Penick later issued a temporary injunction stopping the city from enforcing its ordinance.

Even with the judge's order, it was not against the law to vote the way she did, Blush contends in her lawsuit. Nor, she said, does the law require her to take action to revoke her earlier vote.

The commission votes collegially and not individually, Blush argues.

The lawsuit also alleges that the petition itself is flawed. Under state law, the petitioners have to state their case in 200 words or less. Blush argues that the petition was stapled to a brochure and hung on voters' doorknobs in District 4.

"One cannot read the recall petition without going through a slick, well-thought out, piece of campaign literature in the form of the brochure," the lawsuit states. "The brochure serves to inflame and goes far beyond the 200-word requirement."

Blush is being represented by Treasure Island resident Michael Keane, of the St. Petersburg law firm of Keane, Reese & Vesely. No hearing had been set as of Friday.

According to Florida statute, the grounds for recalling an elected official are limited to: malfeasance; misfeasance; neglect of duty; drunkenness; incompetence; permanent inability to perform official duties; and conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude.

After the recall committee gathered the signatures of 10 percent of the voters in Blush's District 4, the commissioner submitted a 200-word statement in defense of her actions on Feb. 21.

From that date, the committee has 60 days to collect signatures from 15 percent of the 1,341 registered voters in Sunset Beach. If those signatures are gathered and verified with the county supervisor of elections, a recall election could be held _ unless a judge stops the process.

Ray Green, a supporter of the recall effort and a party to the earlier injunction to stop the city from enacting its new ordinance, said he doesn't believe a judge will rule in favor of Blush.

"You've got a whole community here that knows this was wrong," he said of the vote on the LDRs.

Green said he believes the recall petition was prepared legally.

But, if the judge says it's flawed, Green said, "We'll just do it again."