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!


(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.


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:


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.


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.