Sarasota County Charter allows for recall of county commissioners, but only for specific criteria outlined in state law

Malfeasance, drunkenness and incompetence among the reasons

This is the cover of the Sarasota County Charter. Image courtesy Clerk of Court and County Comptroller Karen Rushing

In the wake of recent Sarasota County Commission votes that cleared the way for two high-rise hotels to be constructed on Siesta Key, the question arose last week about whether commissioners could be recalled.

During the Nov. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Robert Luckner provided an update to the members on the Oct. 27 and Nov. 2 public hearings, after which a majority of the commissioners approved an 8-story, 170-room hotel on four parcels comprising slightly less than 1 acre just off Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village, and a 7-story, 120-room hotel on Old Stickney Point Road, respectively.

Former SKA Director Joe Volpe brought up the idea of recalling commissioners. That prompted SKA Vice President Joyce Kouba to remark, “That’d be something to look at.”

In the aftermath of those comments, The Sarasota News Leader found that Section 6.3 of the Sarasota County Charter says, “The procedures for the recall of a County Commissioner shall be as set forth in general law,” referring to the Florida Statutes.

Then the News Leader contacted the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office to ask whether staff could find any record of a county commissioner having been recalled.

Paul Donnelly, the office’s communications manager, replied in a Nov. 9 email: “Our records do not indicate that there has ever been a countywide recall for a commission seat.”

However, he added, the office’s public information coordinator, Barbara Bain, “also did some nifty research and determined that there has been a municipal recall (February 10, 1998). It was a City of North Port Special Recall Election (Seat 4).”

In researching the state’s recall process, the News Leader next found details provided by Ballotpedia, which “is the digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections,” as its website explains. “Our goal is to inform people about politics by providing accurate and objective information about politics at all levels of government. We are firmly committed to neutrality in our content,” the nonprofit adds, pointing out that its mission “is to educate.”

“Ballotpedia’s articles are 100% written by our professional staff of more than 50 writers and researchers. Although we have an office in Middleton, Wisconsin, the majority of our staff work from home offices across the United States,” the website points out.

Image from the Ballotpedia website

Further, the website notes that since it was founded in 2007, Ballotpedia has “received many millions of page views. Our work has been referenced in more than tens of thousands of media outlets, including the New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post, and Politico.

Ballotpedia explains that Florida Statute 100.36(1) says, “Any member of the governing body of a municipality or charter county, hereinafter referred to in this section as ‘municipality,’ may be removed from office by the electors of the municipality.”

Further, Ballotpedia notes that a recall cannot commence “until the targeted official has served at least one-fourth of his or her term in office.”

As for grounds for recall, Ballotpedia points out that seven are allowed: “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, and conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude.”

In response to a News Leader question, Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, leader of the nonprofit Control Growth Now for more than 30 years, characterized the criteria thus in a Nov. 9 email: “The state law which [the county Charter amendment] incorporates by reference, and the case law under it, makes recall very difficult and limited, such as for an official’s commission of a crime or showing up drunk at a meeting.”

Lobeck added, “A County Commissioner cannot be recalled for supporting the big development interests who bankrolled his campaign rather than the public interest. Would that it were [the case] but it is not. … As to the recall law, what more might one expect when politicians write the standards for removing politicians from office?”

This is the section of the Sarasota County Charter that addresses recalling county commissioners. Image courtesy Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller Karen Rushing

More details of the process

Florida Statute 100.361 also explains the following: “When the official represents a district and is elected only by electors residing in that district, only electors from that district are eligible to sign the petition to recall that official and are entitled to vote in the recall election. When the official represents a district and is elected at-large by the electors of the municipality, all electors of the municipality are eligible to sign the petition to recall that official and are entitled to vote in the recall election.”

The number of required signatures on a recall petition depends on the number of registered voters in the affected jurisdiction, Ballotpedia notes.

Ron Turner is the Sarasota County supervisor of elections. Image from www.sarasotavotes.com.

After the signatures have been collected, the designated chair of the recall committee that collected the signatures must present them to “the auditor or clerk of the municipality or charter county, or his or her equivalent,” the state law explains.

The clerk who receives the signatures then must “‘immediately’ convey the signatures to the Supervisor of Elections for the county within which the recall is taking place. The Supervisor of Elections must then proceed to inspect the signatures; a process that is by the relevant statute confined to 30 days,” Ballotpedia continues.

“The group seeking the recall must pay, to the county’s supervisor of elections in advance, ‘the sum of 10 cents for each signature checked or the actual cost of checking such signatures, whichever is less,’” Ballotpedia notes

The signature requirement varies based on the number of registered voters in the jurisdiction,” Ballotpedia adds.

This chart provides details about the signature requirements for recall elections. Image courtesy Ballotpedia

“If the county supervisor of elections determines that sufficient signatures have been filed to force a recall election, he or she must provide a written statement to that effect to the clerk of the relevant jurisdiction. That clerk must then ‘at once serve upon the person sought to be recalled a certified copy of the petition. Within 5 days after service, the person sought to be recalled may file with the clerk a defensive statement of not more than 200 words,’” Ballotpedia explains, quoting the statute.

After the five days have elapsed, the clerk then must prepare a form called the “‘Recall Petition and Defense,’ which includes the defense statement from the recall target (but only if the recall target provides such a defense statement). The ‘Recall Petition and Defense’ is then presented by the clerk to the recall committee,” Ballotpedia adds.

After receiving the “Recall Petition and Defense,” the recall committee has 60 days to collect more signatures, equaling “15% of the electors” in the relevant jurisdiction, the law says.

After their collection, the second set of signatures must be given to the county’s supervisor of elections, along with 10 cents for each name to be checked, Ballotpedia points out.

The supervisor of elections must inspect the second set of signatures within 30 days, Ballotpedia continues.

This is the first part of the state law that lays out the process for recalling elected officials. Image courtesy State of Florida

Finally, if the supervisor of elections determines that sufficient signatures “were filed to force a recall election,” Ballotpedia says, “the recall target is given 5 days to provide a written resignation.” If the target does not do so, Ballotpedia notes, the chief judge of the judicial circuit in which the charter county is located must set a date for the recall election. That date cannot be fewer than 30 days or more than 60 days after the expiration of that five-day period accorded the recall target for tendering his or her resignation, Ballotpedia adds.

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