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.

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