Of the 20 charter counties in Florida, voters in 11 have overwhelmingly approved term limits for their county commissions. Ten of them recognize and respect the law.
The exception is Pinellas County.
In 1996, 73 percent of voters in Pinellas approved a countywide referendum that limited their county commissioners and county constitutional officers to eight years in office. Since then, a split Florida Supreme Court in Cook (2002) decided that counties don’t have the right to impose term limits on constitutional officers. But the Pinellas County commission decided the Cook decision applied to them as well even though the Supreme Court never ruled on commissioner limits in Cook or any other decision.
Until this year. In May, the Supreme Court not only clearly affirmed the constitutionality of county commissioner term limits, but also overturned its previous ruling in Cook regarding constitutional officers.
There is no longer any question whatever about the legality of county term limits in the state of Florida. Sarasota County – the only other county that was defying their voter-approved term limits law – accepted the Supreme Court decision and is now enforcing their popular 8-year term limits.
And yet, the Pinellas county commissioners continue to claim the law does not apply to them. The commissioners do not believe this is true. They simply want to keep their well-paid positions of power and are willing to brazenly defy the law – overwhelmingly approved by the people — in order to keep them.
In Pinellas County, 8-year term limits are currently in the charter. It was never amended to remove them. There is no court ruling that nullified the county commission term limits. On the contrary, there is now a Florida Supreme Court ruling explicitly affirming them.
It is not as if the voters are calling for their repeal. In 2009, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 79 percent of voters in the greater Bay area believe that their politicians should be term limited. Furthermore, the polling suggested that 78 percent prefer that the proper term limit is eight years and opposed longer limits.
Pinellas County commissioners should act honorably and obey the law. The four who have exceeded their legal term limit should resign before being forced to do so by the courts.