Monday, December 12, 2011

Supremes to offer last word on constitutionality of county term limits

The Florida Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal of the 4th District Court of Appeals decision in August that unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of voter-approved term limits throughout the state.

Here's the Supreme Court's order, issued today.

The appeal is being led by county politicians and their allies in Broward County who have been using the courts, so far unsuccessfully, to try to overturn 2000 referendum in which 80 percent of Broward voters limited the term of their county commissioners. The petitioners initial brief is due by Jan. 6, 2012.

If the Supreme Court affirms the 4th DCA's decision, it will finally secure the county commission term limits passed by voters in 10 of Florida's 20 charter -- or "home rule" -- counties. It would also give a green light to nascent county term limits efforts getting under way in Lee, Osceola and Miami-Dade Counties.

Politicians have challenged voter-approved term limits in several counties, notably Sarasota County where term limits are in the charter but where politicians have used local litigation and political manuevers to avoid enforcement. It is expected the Supreme Court will put a stop to such shenanigans. We'll see.

UPDATE: The court has also agreed to hear the Polk County case in which a county commissioner and a local crony are suing to try to overturn term limits.

UPDATE: In Sarasota, where local politicians are refusing to enforce the term limits in their county charter, a group of 16 citizens are asking a local judge to force the county to comply. Further, they are asking that the case go directly to the Supreme Court a la Polk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

First committee to hear Congressional term limits memorial

Good news! Per grassroots lobbyist John Hallman of the Campaign for Liberty, Rep. Matt Caldwell's Term Limits Memorial bill (HB83) will be heard in Federal Affairs Committee the first week of session, the week of January 10th. The next step will be the State Affairs Committee and then to the floor. Rep. Caldwell is confident.

Recall this Memorial is an official call from the Florida legislature to our Congressional delegation to support Congressional term limits. For the full story, go here.

Right now, the heavy lifting is on the Senate side. Keep in mind that genuine representatives of the people like Caldwell are few and far between. For the others, they need pressure from the people to do the right thing.

The first committee in the senate is the Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections. Let's contact the cahirman and ask for a hearing on Sen. Joe Negron's SB672, the Senate version of the Congressional Term Limits Memorial. Let's contact the others and ask them to support the bill. Just click on the senators names to send them an email.

Sen. Greg Evers is already on board and deserves a 'thank you.' Sen. Don Gaetz is the incoming Senate president and is worthy of special attention.

Chair:
Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R)
Vice Chair:
Senator Nancy C. Detert (R)

Senator JD Alexander (R)
Senator Oscar Braynon, II (D)
Senator Paula Dockery (R)
Senator Greg Evers (R)
Senator Don Gaetz (R)
Senator Arthenia L. Joyner (D)
Senator Steve Oelrich (R)
Senator Garrett Richter (R)
Senator David Simmons (R)
Senator Christopher L. "Chris" Smith (D)
Senator Eleanor Sobel (D)
Senator John Thrasher (R)

We need eight votes and only have one definite. Let's get to work!

Friday, November 25, 2011

ACTION ITEM: Florida's term limits memorials need public support

Florida's House and Senate resolutions (called 'memorials') for Congressional term limits are gaining support, but we have to keep the pressure on to get these bills through this legislative session.

The two bills, if passed, would put the Florida legislature officially on record calling for Congressional term limits. Moreover, it resolves that “copies of this memorial be dispatched to the President of the United States, to the President of the United States Senate, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and to each member of the Florida delegation to the United States Congress." The memorials are part of the mounting pressure from all quarters being put on the U.S. Congress to pass a term limits amendment.

Rep. Matt Caldwell's HM83 has attracted nine cosponsors and Sen. Joe Negron's SM672 has attracted one. The Florida Campaign for Liberty has adopted the bills and their grass roots lobbyist John Hallman is working on adding cosponsors. Both bills have two committee stops before a floor vote. Here's the details:

HM83 MEMORIAL by Caldwell (CO-SPONSORS) Ahern; Artiles; Gaetz; Metz; Nuñez; O'Toole; Perry; Pilon; Wood has been referred to two committees:

1. Federal Affairs Subcommittee
2. State Affairs Committee

SM672 MEMORIAL by Negron (CO-SPONSORS) Evers
has been referred to two committees:

1. Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections
2. Rules Committee


These bills are simply memorials. They will pass if there is enough public clamor for them. So let's get clamoring. Here's how you can help today:

+ Call or write Rep. Clay Ford asking for a hearing for HM83, the term limits memorial, in the House Federal Affairs Committee.
+ Call or write Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and ask for a hearing on SM672, the term limits memorial, in his Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections.
+ Contact your own representative and senator asking that they cosponsor the bills.
+ Contribute to our man on the ground, John Hallman, via the Florida Campaign for Liberty. Make checks payable to Florida C4L, 209 S. Clyde Ave., Kissimmee, FL 34741 and be sure to write Term Limits Memorial in the memo field of your check.

If enough of us take these steps, Florida will officially let its Congressional delegation where we stand. We'll be first, but other states will follow our example. The Congressional term limits amendment bills have 16 cosponsors and over 80 Congressional candidates have pledged to join as cosponsors if elected. If we want Congressional term limits, the time to turn on the pressure is right now.

Supremes in no rush to review county term limits

As noted in a previous post, politicians and their cronies in Broward are appealing a 4th District Court of Appeals Decision that deemed county commission term limits -- approved by voters in 10 Florida charter counties -- constitutional.

The appeal to the Florida Supreme Court has been lodged, but that's about it. According to the court's public information officer Craig Waters, the court must first determine if it even has jurisdiction to hear the case.

The court is not in a rush, as neither side has asked that the case be expedited. And, Waters notes, "Generally, the court will not expedidite without a request."

This is not too surprising, as there is little need for speed. As attorney Andrea Flynn Morgensen pointed out to the Sarasota County Commission recently, the 4th DCA is the highest court in the state to have reviewed the issue of county term limits constitutionality and it rendered a clear and unanimous decision.

It would be highly unusual for the Supreme Court to overturn such a decision, and few believe it will. The Supreme Court might even find it doesn't have to take the case at all. After all, the 4th DCA decision does not conflict with any other decisions at the appeals level or higher. Currently, the 4th DCA decision applies statewide and all but one county are abiding by it.

The scofflaw is Sarasota, whose commissioners and their cronies have been litigating and otherwise scheming since 2005 to avoid enforcing voter-approved 8-year term limits.

This is the only loose end and not one the Supreme Court has to trifle with.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Polk County Commissioner sues to overturn voter-approved 8-year term limits

Battling rapacious politicians is like a game of whack-a-mole. No sooner do the citizens slap down a greedy pol in Broward, Palm Beach or just this week in Sarasota, but another schemer pops up to try to circumvent the will of the people to line his own pockets. This time it is Polk County.

The perp this time is Polk County Commissioner Bob English, who is term limited in 2012. In 2000, over 60 percent of the voters approved measures to limit county commissioners to eight years in office and to reduce their salaries from roughly $80,000 to $40,000 a year. English, with politically connected Lakeland businessman Sam Killebrew, have sued the voters to overturn the charter amendments claiming they are unconstitutional.

As noted in previous posts, the highest court to ever rule on the constitutionality of term limits -- the 4th District Court of Appeals -- decided unanimously in August that term limits are indeed constitutional when approved by voters in home rule, or charter, counties.

But when there is money and power at stake, English and Killebrew are clearly unimpressed by puny things like elections, the will of the voters, clear precedents or apparently anything else. On Nov. 23, the duo and their cronies appeared before Circuit Judge Steven L. Selph in Bartow asking for him to strike down the charter amendments.

Ironically, Miami-Dade voters will soon be voting on whether to term limit their commissioners to eight years in office and raise commissioner salaries. But what are voters before the irreplaceable underpaid awesomeness of Bob English?

Stay tuned...

(Pictured: Polk County Commissioner Bob English)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

THE PEOPLE WIN! Judge strikes down Sarasota referendum as 'misleading'

As noted in a previous post, local lawyers showed that propsoed Sarasota County referendum language was a confused and misleading garble. Yesterday a judge agreed and struck down the ballot language for the Jan. 31 vote.

The referendum, if passed, would have replaced the voter-approved 8-year term limits in the county charter with new 12-year limits and a 12-year grandfather period for sitting commissioners.

Because of commission's tenacity over time on this issue, term limits supporters immediately feared the commission would use today's commission meeting to fix the language and proceed with the referendum. But that looks unlikely due to the last-minute change of heart by the chief beneficiary of the referendum, Commissioner Jon Thaxton, whose tenure as a commissioner is timed-out under current law.

Thaxton told the Herald-Tribune yesterday that he had second thoughts about the referendum almost from the moment the commission approved it and had been planning on making a motion today to take it off the ballot.

"I certainly will not be supporting any kind of a language change to go back," he said. "As far as I'm concerned it is a dead issue."

Presumably, this means Jon Thaxton will not be running for reelection in 2012. If so, Thaxton should get credit for his deathbed conversion.

But the real heroes here are attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen and her paralegal Michael barfield who took on this case pro bono to see justice was done. Also, the dozen or so citizen plaintiffs of various backgrounds and political persuasions who cared enough to step forward.

Not only did they preserve Sarasota County's voter-approved term limits law, but they saved the county an estimated $120,000 to hold the special referendum.

This may noy be the last chapter in the story, as the judge did not insist that the current limits be enforced. Sarasota County has been successfully fighting enforcement of the voter-approved law since 2005. With this ruling, commissioners should drop the litigating and political maneuvers ans abide by the simple, popular law voters approved in 1998.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sarasota commission declares war against the voters

The final battle for Sarasota term limits is here. In a 4-1 vote with Joe Barbetta (and a vocal crowd of citizens) dissenting, the commission placed a referendum on the ballot to kill once-and-for-all the 8-year term limits Sarasota voters approved overwhelmingly in 1998.

This ballot measure is the culmination of seven years of legal and political manuevers by the commission to keep from enforcing the voter-approved limits. If it passes, the amendment would officially abolish the 8-year term limits and replace them with a new 12-year limit after a 12-year waiting period for sitting commissioners. Further, the new amendment would not become enforceable unless some unspecified court specifically rules Sarasota term limits to be constitutional.

This is a last-minute Hail Mary pass by the county commission, which will spend about $120,000 to put this referendum on the Jan. 31 ballot. As the sun sets on the same day of the commission vote, citizens are already planning the campaign to defeat this shameful measure.

Details to come...

Lawyers find boobytraps in Sarasota referendum language

I was quoted a couple weeks ago in the Englewood Sun noting with approval the wording of Sarasota County's anti-term limits referendum language and the paper re-published my remarks on the eve of the Nov. 15 commission meeting to put the question on the Jan. 31 ballot. Unfortunately, my comments do not reflect my current thinking on the matter.

I was pleased -- and still am -- that the referendum question makes it clear the commission is weakening the current voter-approved term limit from eight to 12 years. In other cities and counties trying to evade term limits, the politicians deliberately hide the fact that the 8-year term limits currently exist and try to paint their anti-term limits amendment proposal as a pro-term limits proposal. Politicians have to try to trick voters in this way because voters everywhere love term limits.

But it turns out I, not a lawyer, was missing two egregious tricks hidden in the ballot language of the Sarasota referendum. Now that lawyer Andrea Flynn Mogensen and her sharp paralegal Michael Barfield have exposed this, I feel foolish to have been so misled.

Here's the draft language: "Shall Section 2.1A of the Sarasota County Charter be amended to allow County Commissioners to serve three consecutive terms, rather than two consecutive terms, currently ruled unconstitutional by the twelfth judicial circuit court, and to provide that term limits shall be applicable only to future terms rather than to current or prior terms? These term limits would be enforceable only if a court's ruling results in Sarasota County's Commissioner term limits being found constitutional."

Here's the boobytraps the lawyers found in the commission majority's ballot language:

1) The ballot language makes explicit reference to a superceded decision by the local 12th Circuit court that claimed county term limits to be unconstitutional. And yet, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in August decided -- unanimously and unambiguously -- that county term limits are indeed legal. This is the highest court to ever look at the issue and there are no contrary decisions at that level in effect. Ergo, as the lawyers point out, county term limits are constitutional statewide and the reference to the lower circuit court decision simply adds confusion to a simple issue. This is an effort to poison the well.

2) But the really nasty trick, perhaps an unprecedented one, is that the commission majority snuck in a clause that says that the new, weakened term limits do not go into effect unless an outside triggering event occurs that neither voters nor the county has any control over. So this amendment would successfully replace the existing voter-approved 8-year term limits, but would not itself become enforceable until some court in the future specifically deems Sarasota term limits legal.

This might never happen, as it is certainly unnecessary. Courts have already said county term limits statewide are constitutional; there is no reason why any court would single out Sarasota's term limits as constitutional. If the Florida Supreme Court affirms the current law as decided by the 4th DCA as expected, this would only affirm current law and is highly unlikely to mention Sarasota. Why would it?

This referendum idea is a fraud on Sarasota County voters. Commissioners should do the right thing and drop this self-serving referendum, today.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nov. 15 is D-Day for Sarasota term limits -- BE THERE!

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Sarasota County Commissioners will hear from the public and make their decision on whether to continue the commission majority's effort to derail the voter-approved 8-year term limits law.

At issue is whether the commission will place a new referendum on the Jan. 31, 2012, ballot -- in place of the old one which passed overwhelmingly but has never been enforced -- to change Sarasota's existing term limits from eight to 12 years and give themselves a special 12-year grandfather period before they go into effect.

Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent estimates the cost to the county of the special referendum will be about $120,000. Recent polling shows that over about 74 of Southwest Florida voters believe in term limits in general and that 73 percent oppose replacing 8-year with 12-year term limits, at least at the state legislative level.

The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15, in the commission chambers at the Sarasota County Administration Center, 1660 Ringling Boulevard. It is item #38 on the agenda, but commissioners are mum on when they might take it up. Reliable sources estimate the issue might be taken up between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. If you plan to speak, please show up early to sign a speaking card.

Please browse the Sarasota-related articles below for background. Remember to be civil and professional in your remarks. We do not wish the commissioners to dig in their heels further nor have our actions reflect poorly on the civic-minded effort to see the will of the voters respected.

Remember also that the question at hand is not about the pros and cons of term limits. It is whether the clearly expressed will of the voters, as expressed at the ballot box, can be delayed forever by self-serving litigation and political tricks.

The answer is 'no.' Let's tell them.

Please forward a link to this blog post to all your friends and neighbors in Sarasota County.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Miami-Dade, Osceola counties moving toward 8-year county term limits

With constitutionality questions largely cleared up by the 4th District Court of Appeals in August, two more counties are advancing with plans to adopt 8-year county commission term limits by popular vote.

In Miami-Dade, reform efforts are finally making progress, starting with the spectacular recall election of Miami-Dade strong mayor Carlos Alvarez with 88 percent of the vote in March. A package of reforms -- including 8-year county commission term limits -- was put forward by the recall organizers, notably car dealer Norman Braman.

Spooked by the recall, the Miami-Dade county commission tried to co-opt the citizen movement by putting on the May 24 ballot watered-down versions of the reform proposals including that old standard of hack politicians, the 12-year term limits with a 12-year grandfather period. The reformers said no, and so did the voters. The clamor for real reform grew even louder.

On Nov. 3, the commission voted 10-3 to put a question on the Jan. 31, 2012, ballot that combined several of the reform planks: 8-year term limits, increase in salary for commissioners (currently $6,000 a year) and a ban on outside employment for commissioners. Reformers say these moves will improve representation and attract better candidates for office with less conflicts of interest.

As new Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez put it on his campaign website: "In addition to offering more choices for voters, term limits eliminate the advantages of incumbency, break ties to special interests, improve the tendency for elected officials to vote their conscience rather than engage in quid pro quo, and open the door to fresh thinking and new ideas. In short, term limits inhibit political careerism. One of my goals as county mayor would be to make sure an 'eight is enough' law is irrevocably put in place."

In Osceola County, a grass roots citizens group called Osceola Ballot Initiatives has launched a petition drive to collect the 15,000 signatures necessary to put the idea on the ballot. Osceola County Business/Taxpayers Association, or OCBTA, also was involved in the founding of Osceola Ballot Initiatives, along with activist Mark Cross, Florida chairman of the Campaign for Liberty.


Cross said the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections has already approved the language for the term limit initiative. “Term limits always serve as a way to get new people and new ideas into office,” Cross told Around Osceola, adding that former commissioners once they term limit out could serve as “political watchdogs” for the community.

Anyone interested in collecting signatures or donating money for the charter change cause can contact Osceola Ballot Initiatives at 209 S. Clyde Ave., Kissimmee, FL 34741 or at 1128 Anne Elisa Circle, St. Cloud, FL 34772. The group’s telephone number is (407) 508-1801.

(Pictured: Norman Braman, top, and Mark Cross)

David Schwab: Sarasota's anti-term limits amendment is unethical under Florida Statutes

Community activist David Schwab asks a pertinent question in this letter he sent on Nov. 6 to Sarasota County's new ethics and compliance officer, Steve Uebelacker. Is it ethical for county commissioners to vote to try to circumvent Sarasota's voter-approved 8-year term limits on their own initiative, even though they personally are the primary beneficiaries of the move? Schwab says no. His argument is simple and seemingly unarguable. It will be interesting to see how Uebelacker responds.

Dear Mr. Uebelacker,

As you are probably aware, the Board of County Commissioners has initiated a referendum item which extends the term limits for the county commission. My question to you is how is this ethical under 112 f.s.? [See Florida Statutes, Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, part III]. As public officials you are not supposed to vote upon issues which under 112.3143 would "inure to his or her special private gain or loss."

As this measure is not a citizen initiative but an initiative of those who stand to gain from it, I find it highly unethical. As members of the BOCC are currently at or exceed the term limits approved by the voters in 1998 it is unethical for them to go against the will of the people for personal gain. Term limits have been ruled constitutional by a state court of appeals which overrides the decision by the 12th curcuit. This is an attempt by members of the BOCC to gain personally by asking for a reset of term limits already found constitutional by a state court of appeals.

This fact makes the language of the amendment unethical also as it is misleading. So their voting for this referendum is unethical under Florida law as some BOCC members would no longer be able to run again as the current voter approved 1998 charter amendment stands.

This would be a special personal loss as they would be voting themselves out of a job, or gain as they would be able to run again for 3 terms with a reset. They would also gain as incumbent candidates are not likely to be challenged by their own party and gain from being in office from over a decade with name recognition and established fund-raising. These are all reasons this is unethical under 112 f.s.

Has the county BOCC recieved an opinion from Florida's Commission on Ethics prior to pushing for a referendum which clearly has the power to "inure...special private gain or loss"? The BOCC knows without this referendum Mr. Thaxton will not be able to run in 2012 unless Florida's Supreme Court overrules the 4th DCA. As that is the highest court that has ruled thus far, our term limit is constitutional as it stands.

Has the BOCC consulted you as to the ethical nature of this referendum item?

David Schwab



Sarasota County, Florida

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sarasota Republicans approve term limits resolution 97-2

NOV. 10 UPDATE -- At tonight's meeting, members of the Sarasota Republican Executive Committee resolved -- by a 97 to 2 vote -- that Sarasota County commissioners shall respect the will of the people and retain, defend and abide by the voter-initiated and approved 8-year county commission term limits. There were 5 abstentions.

The resolution was a direct challenge to the commission majority's proposal to ditch the popular 8-year limit and replace it with a new 12-year limit and a special 12-year grandfather period for current commissioners.

When the resolution was read, the floor erupted with applause and cheers. Before the vote, the draft resolution was strengthened with language specifically criticizing the commission's proposed anti-term limits amendment.

Commissioner Nora Patterson, a key player in the effort to circumvent the voter-approved term limits law, attended the meeting but left before the vote.

Citizens of all parties will have an opportunity to more directly share their feeling with commissioners at the Nov. 15 hearing on the proposal. Be there!

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SARASOTA REPUBLICANS PONDER PRO-TERM LIMITS RESOLUTION
(Originally posted 11/3/11)

Much has been made of the fact that the majority of the Sarasota County Commission -- all Republicans -- has proposed holding a referendum to give commissioners 12 additional years in office on Republican primary day, Jan. 31, 2011, when few Democrats will be voting. Clever idea, but the commissioners might not be able to count on the blind support of their own party.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, a draft of a resolution has been submitted to be voted on at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Republican Executive Committee of Sarasota County. If it passes, the Sarasota REC will resolve "that Sarasota County commissioners shall respect the will of the people and retain, defend and abide by the voter-initiated and approved eight-year term limit."

Its odds are good. REC Chair Joe Gruters told the Herald-Tribune that some 90 percent of Republicans support term limits.

PROPOSED REC RESOLUTION

WHEREAS through the Sarasota county charter review process, an amendment for 8-year term limits on county commissioners was created, vetted and placed on the county ballot in 1998;

WHEREAS the voters of Sarasota county approved the charter amendment by a 68 percent vote;

WHEREAS the 8-year commission term limit was to go into effect in 2006 but was blocked by local litigation;

WHEREAS the 8-year term limit remains in the Sarasota county charter but is currently unenforced;

WHEREAS the Supreme Court of the State of Florida is expected to rule on the Constitutionality of Sarasota county commission term limits before the 2012 elections;

WHEREAS recent national, statewide and Southwest Florida polling indicates over 70 percent of voters of all political parties continue to support term limits;

THEREFORE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF SARASOTA COUNTY HEREBY RESOLVES that Sarasota County commissioners shall respect the will of the people and retain, defend and abide by the voter-initiated and approved 8-year term limit.

REC members are encouraged to attend the Nov. 10 meeting -- details here -- and let the county know how you stand.


(Pictured, Sarasota County REC Chair Joe Gruters)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

McCalister, Miller, Kaufman sign Congressional term limits pledge

Florida U.S. Senate candidates Col. Mike McCalister and Craig Miller are the latest signatories to U.S. Term Limits Congressional term limits pledge. In signing the pledge, the duo committed themselves to cosponsor and vote for the 3/2 term limits amendment bills introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. David Schweikert in their respective houses.

Some 75 Congressional candidates have signed the pledge so far, including Florida U.S. Senate candidate Adam Hasner, who has taken the additional step of limiting himself to two terms whether the Congressional bills pass or not.

If any of these candidates win, they will join 10 other senators -- including Sen. Marco Rubio -- as cosponsors. The incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, is not a term limits supporter.

In the House, South Florida's Joe Kaufman, running for the District 20 seat, signed last week as well.

This is the first time in nearly 15 years that serious term limits bills with cosponsors have been introduced in both houses.

To see these bills progress will require pressure from the citizens. Let the Congress know you want to see action on these bills by signing the online petition here.

(Pictured at top, Col. Mike McCalister with supporter and activist Starla Brown)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An open letter from John C. Minder

The attempt of the majority of the Sarasota County Commission to circumvent voter-approved 8-year term limits has generated a lot of public discussion. Here's an open letter being circulated by John C. Minder of Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation addressed to the leaders of the Argus Foundation, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, Home Builders Association of Manatee and Sarasota and the Venice and Englewood Chambers of Commerce. Please keep in mind that for a local businessman to distribute such information requires some courage when you consider the power wielded by county commissioners:

Directors,

As a former member of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, a member of the Argus Foundation, a former member of the Sarasota County Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Home Builders Association of Manatee & Sarasota Counties, a potential member of the Venice Chamber of Commerce and a potential member of the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, I am requesting that your members vigorously oppose the proposed referendum proposed to be held on January 31, 2011, and protect my one vote as a taxpayer in Sarasota County who voted with the other 68 percent of the voters in Sarasota County in favor of eight year term limits in 1998.


The Commission should drop the referendum idea, wait for the Supreme Court and resign themselves to its decision. That is the right thing to do.
On Tuesday, October 25, 2011, the county attorney, a member of the Sarasota County Bar Association, brought up under County Attorney Reports the Board of County Commissioners previously requested legal request for him to investigate the legality of holding a referendum on January 31, 2011, to clarify the State Supreme Court’s decision, that hasn’t even been made yet, to extend the two year term limits voted in 1998 to three years and to negate the time already served by the existing County Commissioners so they can all run and attempt to be elected for another three terms!

Please see the video of the County Attorney’s Report on the morning of October 25, 2011, on the Sarasota County website. Commissioner Christine Robertson, a member of the Sarasota County Bar Association, led the discussion and made the motion to prepare an ordinance and to place the ordinance on the Agenda for a Public Hearing by the Board of County Commissioners. The motion was seconded by either Commissioner Carolyn Mason or Commissioner Nora Patterson I do not recall which one. Commissioner Jon Thaxton made no comments and Commissioner Joe Barbetta, a member of the Sarasota County Bar Association, vigorously opposed the motion and stated in so many words “The Commission should drop the referendum idea, wait for the Supreme Court and resign themselves to its decision. That is the right thing to do."

The vote was 4-1 to with the other four commissioners voting for the motion and Commissioner Joe Barbetta voting against the motion.

It is my professional opinion that this vote by the Board of County Commissions is a bad example and sends the wrong message to the county staff at a time when we are trying to put a stop to the corruption that has occurred in Sarasota County in the past.

Sincerely,

Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation
John C. Minder, PE, PSM

+++++

John C. Minder holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1964 and has done graduate work in Environmental Engineering at the Illinois Institue of Technology. He is a Professional Engineer with registration in Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. He is also a Professional Surveyor and Mapper in Illinois and Florida. With over 45 years experience, Mr. Minder has been responsible for a variety of Civil Engineering projects throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Florida.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sarasota law firm takes term limits case on pro bono basis

The citizens finally have some legal muscle to make sure they are not steamrolled by the county commission majority trying to circumvent Sarasota's voter-approved 8-year term limits.

The Sarasota-based law firm of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A., has decided to take on the Sarasota County term limits case on a pro bono basis. One of their first actions is to send an open letter to County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh, with copies to all the commissioners.

Heretofore, this blog has assumed that the county must wait for an expected Supreme Court decision to render Sarasota County term limits enforceable. However, in this letter, the lawyer argues that the 4th DCA case that affirmed the constitutionality of county term limits applies to Sarasota right now even though Sarasota is in a different appellate district. Here's the letter:

+++++

Mr. DeMarsh,

Last week you stated to the County Commission that the decision of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit decision in Moore finding the term limit provision in the County Charter unconstitutional is binding in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. I also believe that you read from the proposed ballot language which echoed that opinion. There was a lengthy discussion between you and Commissioner Robinson relating to the impact of the recent appellate decision in Snipes v. Telli, 67 So. 3d 415 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011), upholding term limits provision in a county charter as constitutional. Commissioner Robinson stated that the term limits provision in our Charter is not constitutional. You actually stated that the Moore decision “is the law.” For the reasons set forth below, I respectfully disagree.

As I understand it, the Snipes decision is binding on any judge in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit at the present time.


It is a well established principle of Florida law that a decision of an
appellate court is binding on a trial court in the absence of a contrary
decision by the appellate court in the trial court’s district.
See, e.g., Pardo v. State, 596 So.2d 665, 666 (Fla. 1992) (“This Court has stated that the decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the law of Florida unless and until they are overruled by this Court. Thus, in the absence of interdistrict conflict, district court decisions bind all Florida trial courts.”) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); Brannon v. State, 850 So.2d 452, 458 (Fla. 2003) (“If there is no controlling decision by this Court or the district court having jurisdiction over the trial court on a point of law, a decision by another district court is binding.”). See also 12A Fla. Jur 2d Courts and Judges § 177 (“In the absence of interdistrict conflicts, district court decisions bind all Florida trial courts. A circuit court wheresoever situated in Florida is equally bound by a decision of a district court of appeal regardless of its appellate district. Thus, in the absence of a contrary opinion of its own district court of appeal, a circuit court is bound to follow an opinion of another district court of appeal.”).

Thus, as of today, the Snipes decision is binding on every Circuit Court Judge in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. Any contention otherwise is grossly misleading. More important, any ballot language indicating a reliance on the Twelfth Circuit Court decision in Moore is misleading. In the event you disagree with this assessment, please inform me immediately as I am perfectly comfortable seeking an expedited judicial resolution to resolve any differences of opinion.

Law Office of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A.
200 S. Washington Blvd., Suite 7

Sarasota, FL 34236

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sarasota Commissioner Barbetta: "Voters out there want term limits"

The Sarasota County Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday, Oct. 25, to advance an anti-term limits amendment with a required public hearing on Nov. 15.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta was the sole dissenter, putting his sense of fair play above his personal interest in keeping his position forever.

Barbetta told the Englewood Sun that the charter amendment and a new 12-year grandfather period "just does not pass the test with me when 74 percent of the voters out there want term limits."

The "preferential route" is to wait for and abide by the Supreme Court ruling, he said. "Our problem would be resolved one way or the other."

He's right. If the Supreme Court rules that county commission term limits are constitutional, as expected, Sarasota's existing voter-approved 8-year term limits would be enforceable. If the Supreme Court rules otherwise, term limits will continue to go unenforced in Sarasota County. The people have already made their decision, approving the current unenforced 8-year limits by 68 percent of the vote.

Barbetta went further to say that commissioners should have defended the law aggressively in 2005. Back then, the commission -- which did not yet include Barbetta -- voted unanimously to accept without appeal a lower court ruling that term limits were unconstitutional. Subsequently, the 4th District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the unconstitutionality claim in a Broward County case in an unambiguous decision.

Siesta Key resident Michael Figgins told the Sun that Barbetta "realizes what’s going on ... this county is in bad shape right now."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Herald-Tribune guest columnist asks county commission to abide by decision by Sarasota voters, Florida Supreme Court

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune today ran a guest columnist piece I wrote about the effort by the county commission to sabotage Sarasota's voter-approved 8-year term limits.

Here's how it begins:

"Contrary to any high-minded rhetoric clouding the issue, there is only one reason for a new referendum on Sarasota County term limits: to delay enforcement of voter-approved term limits."

And how it ends:

"The commission should drop the referendum idea, wait for the Supreme Court and resign themselves to its decision. That is the right thing to do."

For everything in between, read the full column here.

State Sen. Joe Negron files resolution for Congressional term limits!

Great news! Florida Sen. Joe Negron has sponsored a Senate companion for Rep. Matt Caldwell's resolution, or memorial as they are called in the legislature, calling for term limits on the U.S. Congress.

With a term limits amendment bill with cosponsors in both Houses of Congress for the first time since the mid-1990s, it is time for us to put the pressure on Congress anyway we can to cosponsor and vote for these bills. One way is to have our state legislatures officially call for Congressional term limits.

Sen. Joe Negron and Rep. Matt Caldwell are taking the lead for the 79 percent of Floridians who support the idea.

Sen. Negron's bill -- SM 672 -- is a mirror of Rep. Caldwell's HM 83 that, if passed, would officially call for Congressional term limits. Moreover, it resolves that “copies of this memorial be dispatched to the President of the United States, to the President of the United States Senate, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and to each member of the Florida delegation to the United States Congress."

Rep. Caldwell successfully shepherded this bill through the House last session, but it died without a Senate companion. This session Caldwell added a co-sponsor in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.

A lot of the legwork on these bills is being done by grass roots political consultant John Hallman and the activist group Campaign for Liberty, who have chosen the memorials as priority legislation for the session

But they need our help:

1) Send a thank you to the two Matts (Caldwell and Gaetz) in the House and Sen. Negron in the Senate. Let them know we appreciate it and that these bills are worth their continued efforts.

2) Contact your state rep and ask him or her to cosponsor and vote for this bill. To find your representative, go here and select the FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE pull-down menu on the top left.

3) Contact Rep. Clay Ford here and ask for a vote on Caldwell's HM 83 by the Federal Affairs Subcommittee.

4) Contact your state senator and ask him or her to cosponsor and support Sen. Negron's bill. To find your senator, go here.

5) Write a letter to editor in support of the memorials.

6) Support U.S. Term Limits and Campaign for Liberty with financial assistance for the effort.

We can do this. After all, the Caldwell bill is NOT an Article 5 call for a Constitutional Convention, but simply a resolution. And, unlike Congress members – who have a self-interest in opposing Congressional term limits – state legislators have a self-interested reason is passing them: Congressional term limits would open up seats they can run for. They know as well as anyone that incumbents in Congress statistically can’t lose except via death or indictment.

To follow the bill using the House’s BillTracker, go here. Senate, here.

If we are successful in Florida, other states will follow our lead. Believe me, the Congress will feel the pressure if state after state (and poll after poll) call for term limits. Let's do it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sarasota politicians lost in "limbo" of their own creation

As four of the five Sarasota County commissioners press forward with their effort to secure a new 12-year reprieve from voter-approved term limits, they are looking for plausible fig leaves to cover their self-interested battle against their constituents.

It isn't easy.

Right now, 8-year term limits are in the charter and will become enforceable if -- as expected -- the state Supreme Court in the coming months rules such limits constitutional. But we don't know for sure which way the Supreme Court will rule. Commissioners are citing the need for a new referendum, and quick, to save them from what they call "limbo."

One justification for a new referendum is the alleged need to change Sarasota's limits from eight to 12 years to be in line with Broward County's voter-approved term limits law which was unanimously ruled constitutional by the Fourth District Court of Appeals in August. However, the 4th DCA decision does not even discuss the number of terms permitted. The point of law is whether charter, or "home rule," counties have the constitutional right to choose term limits for their commissions in the same manner in which they choose between other arrangements, such as single-member vs. at-large districts. It has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with number of terms.

In fact, of the 10 charter counties with term limits, nine of them have 8-year limits. If any county needs to get in line, it's Broward! But then again, home rule is not about being in line with other counties; it is about customization. It is about, well, home rule.

Another justification is that it is not entirely clear -- uh oh, more limbo! -- what will happen to the one commissioner the term limits law applies to in 2012, Jon Thaxton. Thaxton has chosen (repeat: chosen) to run again in spite of the fact that it is likely that he will not be able to take office after the Supreme Court rules. This is an antisocial decision by Thaxton, as not only does it violate the popular voter-approved term limits laws, but it also makes other potential candidates reluctant to join the race. Limbo!

Of course, this confusion is only confusion that Thaxton is choosing to create. Making it worse, there are whispers that Thaxton or other commissioners might sue the voters if not permitted to hold office, even if the Supreme Court does rule term limits constitutional. County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh has explicitly mentioned this possibility.

A spokesperson for Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent told the Englewood Sun that in her nearly 11 years as supervisor of elections, she has never been sued by anyone she declared ineligible to run for public office. But Thaxton may choose to be the first.

As a commissioner in 2005, Thaxton chose not to appeal the local judge's decision that county term limits where unconstitutional. But in 2011, he may choose to try to evade a Supreme Court decision that county commission term limits are constitutional.

Such choices expose what the majority of commissioners are really after. They are not worried about "limbo." In fact, they are more than willing to create it in order to keep their cozy positions in defiance of the voters.

+++++

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: On Nov. 15, the commission will hold a required hearing on their plan to ditch voter-approved 8-year term limits. Be there!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Citizen Bolam defends Sarasota term limits

Consider please the contrast between the Sarasota County Commission and Kathy Bolam of Venice on the issue of voter-approved 8-year term limits.

The commissioners are using public resources on public time in order to circumvent the clearly expressed will of the public for their own personal benefit.

Bolam is volunteering her own time, distributing flyers, holding meetings, writing letters and will receive nothing in return. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The commission doesn't stand a chance.

Just last weekend, Bolam distributed pro-term limits flyers at the North Port flea market and Venice Expo. She held a meeting at her home Saturday evening and had a letter to the editor appear in the Sunday Herald-Tribune.

If you see Kathy, please thank her for her efforts on behalf of the community. While you're at it, ask her how you can help.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sarasota County Commission launches counterattack against voter-approved 8-year term limits

In an earlier post, I marveled at the arrogance of the Sarasota county commission in its treatment of Sarasota’s voter-approved 8-year term limits law. But this week, the commission brought political hubris to a shocking new level.

To recap, Sarasota voters in 1998 approved 8-year term limits for their county commissioners. As these were about to go into effect, a commissioner or commissioners – via a disinterested citizen, of course – filed suit and got a local judge to knock down the law as “unconstitutional.” Then, in a clear case of putting their personal self interest above the clearly expressed will of the voters at the ballot box, the commission voted unanimously in 2005 not to defend the voter-approved law and to appeal the decision. Term limits remained in the charter, but were not enforced.

Currently, the highest Florida court that has looked at the issue says that county commission term limits are constitutional and, indeed, they are enforced everywhere else except Sarasota County.

As it is widely expected the Florida Supreme Court will uphold the Constitutionality of county commission term limits before the 2012 elections, the county commission is already planning its next counterattack. Rather than letting the voter-approved 8-year term limits go into effect, they are floating the idea of a new referendum to abolish the 8-year term limits and replace them with new 12-year term limits with a new (that is, another) grandfather period of 12 years!

Naturally, the commissioners are not citing their self-interest in floating this proposal, but instead claim they are trying to avoid “confusion” and potential litigation.

But the fact is that 8-year term limits have been passed in accordance with the law. When the Supreme Court affirms that fact, the term limits should be enforced. There is no confusion except that which the commission creates. And there is no fear of litigation if the commissioners or one of their cronies don’t sue the voters, again. So, don't.

+++++

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

In 1998, 68 percent of Sarasota voters imposed 8-year term limits. In 2009, polling from Quinnipiac University shows that 73 percent of Southwest Florida respondents opposed weakening state legislative term limits from 8 to 12 years.

To weigh in today on whether you support the current voter-approved 8-year term limit or a new 12-year limit with a new 12-year grandfathering period, please see the poll at the top corner of this page, http://flatermlimits.blogspot.com/.

Englewood Sun tells it like it is: "Fishy"

While the Englewood Sun is no friend of Sarasota term limits, their editorial board chair Brian Gleason on Oct. 19 told the whole truth -- minus all the spin and prevarications we are hearing from the county commission -- about the commissions' proposal to replace Sarasota's existing voter-approved 8-year term limits with new 12-year limits and a new 12-year grandfathering period.

You can read the whole thing here, but here's the highlights:

"Going forward, the incumbents will have to justify an action that is
obviously self-serving.

"Is this the Jon Thaxton Preservation Act? Of course it is.

"Does this co-opt a previous referendum that passed with a 68-percent
majority? Of course it does.

"Is it right to hold a referendum during the January Republican Party
primary? Of course not. Turnout among the 87,000 registered Democrats will
be minimal, to say the least. Republicans have every reason to favor a
measure that would keep the five commissioners — all Republicans — in
office.

"Slam dunk. Win-win. Fishy, perhaps, but one sleek mackerel...If you are going to impose term 'limits,' it’s best to make them as meaningless as possible."


Wow. In a one-party county where incumbents haven't lost an election since the mid-'90s and commissioners often don't even draw opposition, the good ol' boys are apparently comfortable openly scoffing at the will of voters and the rights of the opposition party. It may be an affront to democracy and fair play, but you have to give the paper credit for its chutzpah.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ballot language for Sarasota's anti-term limits referendum

Time is running out for the desperate Sarasota County Commissioners trying to undermine their county's voter-approved 8-year term limits law. At the request of commissioners, county attorney Stephen DeMarsh has offered sample ballot language and warns a public hearing is required on this issue on Nov. 8 or Nov. 15 in order to place the question on the Jan. 31 ballot.

Ed Scott tells the story in a Englewood Sun article here. Scott reports that in an Oct. 18 memo to commissioners DeMarsh advised that the language has to confirm with a 1982 Supreme Court decision that the public be “advised of the true meaning and ramifications of the amendment in clear and unambiguous language” and the ballot summary must “give the voter fair notice of the decision to be made and explain the effect of the amendment."

DeMarsh's sample language for the most part passes the test. Here it is:




TITLE: Extend Commissioner term limits to three terms
commencing upon referendum approval if term limits constitutional

TEXT: Shall Section 2.1A of the Sarasota County Charter be
amended to allow County Commissioners to serve three, rather than two, consecutive terms, and to provide that term limits shall be applicable only to terms commencing after January 31, 2012, rather than to terms commencing after September 1, 1998 (effective date of current term limit provision)? These term limits would be enforceable if a court’s ruling results in Sarasota County’s Commissioner term limits being found constitutional.


Note that the text makes it clear, if one reads it, that this ballot measure weakens the existing term limits and adds a 12-year delay on implementation.

The title alludes to this too, but is not 100% clear and many voters only read the title. So defenders of the current law need to inform voters that this measure does not simply impose 12-year term limits (something voters may support as they don't know Sarasota already has 8-year term limits in the charter) but instead is an self-interested attack on term limits. We should refer to it as the "anti-term limits amendment" from here on out.

If citizens are successful in educating their neighbors on this point, the people will win and the politicians will lose.

Dr. Rich: Sarasota should take positive action on behalf of voters

In this blog I have been calling for the Sarasota County Commission to give up its desperate 6-year crusade against enforcing Sarasota County's voter-approved 8-year term limits law, accept the imminent state Supreme Court affirmation of county term limits laws, and then act in accordance with the law. In other words, the county commission should resign itself to the law and the clearly expressed will of the people.

But the local businessman, blogger and radio host known as Dr. Rich suggests that is not enough. In his view, the county commission is elected to serve the people and therefore should be taking positive action to implement the people's will.

He points out that the highest court to look at the issue of county commission term limits -- the 4th District Court of appeals -- has unanimously decided such term limits are constitutional and enforceable. Hence, Dr. Rich says in a new blog post, "What the County Commission should have done is direct County Attorney DeMarsh to support the ruling of the 4th DCA and request the Florida Supreme Court to issue a quick judgement in favor of the people of Sarasota County."

He's right, of course.

Unfortunately, the commission is going the opposite direction: floating a new referendum to replace the voter-approved 8-year term limits with 12-year term limits and -- the real reason for the change -- a new 12-year grandfather period for current commissioners.

The commission is taking action all right, but it is not to serve the voters, but only themselves.

KEEP 8-YEAR TERM LIMITS bumper sticker available!

The people spoke, approving 8-year term limits for the Sarasota County commission with 68 percent of the vote.

Local politicians blocked their implementation for years, but it looks like the Florida Supreme Court is coming to voters' rescue in a few months. In response, the commission is cobbling together a new scheme to abolish the voter-approved 8-year term limits and replace them with new 12-year limits with -- can you believe it? -- a new 12-year grandfather period for current commissioners.

So, it is time for the people to speak again. One way to do it is with this tasteful, high-quality vinyl bumper sticker: KEEP 8-YEAR TERM LIMITS. This sticker is easily removable without any damage to your vehicle. And, they're free.

To get one, go here and include your contact info including mailing address and you'll find one in your mailbox promptly. Thanks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Commissioner Jon Thaxton bucks Sarasota voters on term limits -- again!

Is it something in the water?

Arrogance of professional politicians is, of course, hardly uncommon, but Sarasota County brings it to a new level when it comes to the way county politicians have dealt with their county’s voter-approved term limits law.

In 1998, 68 percent of Sarasota voters approved a citizen initiative to limit the terms of county commissioners to eight years in office. As has occurred elsewhere, politicians brought the charter amendment to court and found a friendly local judge to shoot it down as unconstitutional. One would expect that the county would feel obligated to defend 68 percent of their voters by appealing the decision. But Commisisoner Jon Thaxton and the rest of the commission – the very body the term limits amendment applied to – voted not to appeal, citing the cost.

The cost! In a decade with surging property value and surging budgets, the big spending commissioners of Sarasota County suddenly became fiscal conservatives when faced with the prospect of having their terms limited by pesky citizens. The estimated cost of the appeal was $15,000.

Today, the charter amendment stands, but there is a footnote in the charter noting that the term limits language is not enforceable due to the court decision.

Meanwhile, in Broward County a similar story unfolded but with a far different ending. When local politicians tried to overturn the Broward County term limits law, the county went to bat for the 80 percent of voters that approved their term limits law. And guess what? The 4th District Court of Appeals in August confirmed unanimously that, yep, county term limits are indeed constitutional.

Politicians are appealing to the Supreme Court, where the term limits law is expected to be affirmed. When it is, Sarasota term limits will go into effect, finally.

So the Sarasota County commission has been busted by the 4th District Court of Appeals for their self-serving upending of all the hard work and the clear will of their citizens. But Commissioner Jon Thaxton is not done yet. He has announced he plans to run for his fourth term in spite of the voter-approved term limits amendment.

Thaxton is a poster child for term limits. There are several good reasons for term limits, but the primary one is that it mandates regular, competitive elections. As is typical, Thaxton has not faced a challenger since he first ran in 2000.

That's right, Jon Thaxton’s name has not appeared on a general election ballot for over a decade! Remember that the next time some politician pulls out the hoary old cliche "we already have term limits, they are called elections."

It is no wonder Thaxton voted against defending the people’s term limits law. He knows what all county commissioners know, that because of the advantages incumbents have, sitting commissioners rarely face serious challengers -- if they face any challengers at all. The county commissioner gig is a cozy one and he is all but guaranteed of keeping it, as long as there are no term limits.

His announcement means that other potential challengers are not entering the race or, if they are, they will not be able to raise the money they need for a competitive race. On his way out, Thaxton is throwing one more wrench into Sarasota democracy.

Isn’t it this kind of behavior that led 68 percent of Sarasota voters to approve term limits in the first place?

Term limits emerge as issue in Florida U.S. Senate race

As noted below, polls show Floridians love term limits. And why not? We have term limits on our governor, state legislators, county commissioners in nine counties and countless mayors and city councils. Term limits work and Floridians know it.

Adam Hasner, as a term limited former House majority leader, knows it too. Hasner has signed the U.S. Term Limits pledge that, if elected, he -- like Sen. Marco Rubio -- will cosponsor and support Sen. Jim DeMint's term limits amendment bill to limit terms to three in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate. He reiterated his pledge in his new campaign brochure, at left, going further to say that he would only serve two terms in the Senate. The U.S. Term Limits pledge is not a self limit, but only a pledge to support 3/2 term limits legislation.

While all the Senate candidates have made pleasant noises about term limits when asked, only Hasner has signed his name so far.

But rival George LeMieux is challenging Hasner's ownership of the issue. In his attack site, PhonyConservative.com, LeMieux points out that as a Florida House member Hasner voted for an amendment to weaken Florida's voter-approved term limits on the state legislature from eight to 12 years. (Hasner also voted to remove the amendment from the ballot following a public outcry in support of the 8-year term limit law.)

Brian Seitchik, campaign manager for LeMieux, puts it this way: "The fact is, Adam Hasner voted to severely weaken Florida’s voter approved term limits law in order to give career legislators like himself more time in Tallahassee. He even defended that position, saying longer terms would bring better government. Now he wants voters to believe he’s a term limits champion?"

Ouch.

I'm looking forward to the next round. May the best man win. But dare I suggest that other candidates sign the pledge to support the term limits amendment as Hasner did before they attack him for being weak on term limits.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Politicians ask Florida Supreme Court to kill voter-approved county term limits

It's official. Broward County politicians, hiding behind their attorneys, are appealing the recent appellate court decision that deemed county commission term limits constitutional. Yes, county term limits are going to the state Supreme Court.

Bill Scherer, acting for sitting Broward commissioner John Rodstrom among others, launched the appeal after losing his case at the appellate court level on Aug. 10. The appellate court had decided -- unanimously -- that home rule charter counties do indeed have the right to customize their county commissions as they have long done.

It is for this reason that some counties have seven commissioners and some have five, or even 13. Some have single member districts and some are elected from the county at-large -- and some have a blend of the two. Some have a strong mayor system and some have a commission-manager structure. Some counties offer nominal compensation to cover expenses and others offer high salaries with benefits. Some counties have term limits and some don't.

In home rule counties, all charter changes such as these are approved by the voters in a referendum, sometimes by a citizen's initiative after collecting thousands of signatures from their neighbors. Florida's county term limits were adopted by lopsided votes of the people, including 80% voter approval in Broward.

The August decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals upheld Broward County term limits, argued that this traditional understanding of home rule is correct. The people won; the politicians lost. It should have ended there.

But politicians grasp for power like a drowning man gasps for air. Scherer and his cronies argue in their appeal to the Supreme Court that the people cannot be trusted to alter their charter in this way. Instead, county commissioners should be treated just like constitutional officers -- such as the tax collector and property appraisers -- which are state creations over which the Supreme Court has said people have less say.

This is seen as a weak argument, as constitutional officers are distinct from county commissioners are treated in a different section of the state constitution. The quite readable 4th district decision makes this distinction as clear as day.

Meanwhile, the desperate Broward political clan is tossing 2012 county elections across the state into confusion in their last bid to hold on to the thrones that have enriched and, sadly but evidently, corrupted them.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Voters in half of charter counties have approved county term limits

This Supreme Court case isn't just about the antisocial ambition of Broward County politicians. The case will reaffirm -- or revoke -- the will of voters in 10 of Florida's charter counties.

Right now, half of Florida's charter counties have voter-approved term limits on their county commissioners. There are 67 counties in Florida.

But only charter counties -- sometimes called 'home rule' counties -- are permitted to customize their local government to meet local needs and concerns. There are 20 such counties in Florida, and they include the biggest ones. Orange, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade are all charter counties.

As explained on the Palm Beach County govenrment website, "True Home Rule gives the Board of County Commissioners the ability to create, through a local public hearing ordinance procedure, local laws that are not in conflict with or specifically prohibited by state general law or the Florida Constitution. This process is done without having to go to the Florida Legislature to request special legislation to create these laws."

Home rule has resulted in many different formats for county government, chosen by the people. For example, some counties have partisan elections and some don't.

For a simple and excellent primer on charter counties, see this presentation by the Palm Beach County Charter Review Commission. This was the source for the county comparison above.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Florida House resolution calls for Congressional term limits!

With a term limits amendment bill in both Houses of Congress, it is time for us to put the pressure on Congress anyway we can to cosponsor and vote for these bills. On way is to have our state legislatures officially call for Congressional term limits.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, a state rep from Lehigh Acres, Fla., is taking the lead in his state. Rep. Caldwell has introduced a resolution – HM 83 – that, if passed, would call for Congressional term limits. Moreover, it resolves that “copies of this memorial be dispatched to the President of the United States, to the President of the United States Senate, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and to each member of the Florida delegation to the United States Congress.”

Rep. Caldwell successfully shepherded this bill through the House last session, but it died without a Senate companion.

This session will be different. First, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach signed on as the first cosponsor. Now, the statewide activist group Campaign for Liberty is considering adding the bill to it focus list for the next session. And term limits are a favorite cause of grass roots political consultant John Hallman, who is on the case.

Here’s how you can help:

1) Send a thank you to the two Matts (Caldwell and Gaetz). Let them know we appreciate it and that this bill is worth their continued efforts.

2) Contact your state rep and ask him or her to cosponsor and vote for this bill. To find your representative, go here and select the FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE pull-down menu on the top left.

3) Contact your state senator and ask him or her to introduce a similar bill in the Senate. To find your senator, go here.

4) Write a letter to editor in support of the resolution.

Term limit supporters in other states should follow suit. This is easier than you think. After all, the Caldwell bill is NOT an Article 5 call for a Constitutional Convention, but simply a resolution.

And, unlike Congress members – who have a self-interest in opposing Congressional term limits – state legislators have a self-interested reason is passing them: Congressional term limits would open up seats they can run for. They know as well as anyone that incumbents in Congress statistically can’t lose except via death or indictment.

To follow the bill using the House’s BillTracker, go here. You will also find the full text of the bill.

This is another important salvo in the battle for Congressional term limits. Join the fight!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adam Hasner Florida's first U.S. Senate candidate to sign Congressional term limits pledge

Former Florida House Speaker Adam Hasner is the first to sign the U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge to, if elected, cosponsor and vote for the Congressional term limits Constitutional amendment currently under consideration in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

He would be joining Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio, in cosponsoring the amendment, which was introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and cosponsored by 10 senators so far. Other cosponsors include Sens. Rand Paul, Tom Coburn and Mike Lee. A House companion was introduced by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and immediately cosponsored by Joe Walsh (R-IL). This is the first time in nearly 20 years that a serious term limits bill has appeared in both houses of Congress with sponsorship.

U.S. Term Limits sent a copy of the pledge to every declared Congressional candidate in the United States in July. It reads, using the specifics from the DeMint/Schweikert bill, “I, _____________, pledge that as a member of Congress I will cosponsor and vote for the U.S. Term Limits Amendment of three (3) House terms and two (2) Senate terms and no longer limit."

This formulation is important, as it solidifies the 3/2 consensus hammered out by the term limits movement over the past generation. In the Contract with America era in the early 1990s, differences over details derailed Congressional term limits, as numerous bills were offered up and voted on. Every politician got to vote for some version and brag about it back home without any fear that any one bill might pass. It was there the term limits movement learned how essential it is to stick with the consensus formulation.

It is the people's formulation. Wherever citizens initiate a term limits law, the terms are invariably six or eight years. Whenever politicians initiate it, the terms are usually 12 or even more -- hardly a limit at all!

Adam Hasner was first to sign, but not the last. Let's ask every Congressional candidate in the state to sign the pledge and mail it in to U.S. Term Limits. USTL will send out an announcement email to term limits supporters throughout the state and press releases to district media.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Politicians to take case against voters to Supreme Court?

Yesterday, the appellate court vindicated the constitutionality of Florida's county term limits, removing any immediate threat to Palm Beach County's law and re-establishing Broward County term limits that had been overturned by a lower court judge.

Now, this morning, the Palm Beach Post is reporting that the gaggle of politicians and politically connected lawyers and judges that challenged the Broward law -- which passed by 80% in 2000 -- is mulling over appealing the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

We'll continue to watch and report on the progress of the case, but are not overly concerned. The case for county term limits at the Supreme Court level is far stronger than the narrower appellate level case. There currently is no legal basis for county commissioners to challenge the law, but this may or may not stop them from trying. Stay tuned.