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Florida: Pinellas County Commissioner Roche Stands with Voters on Term Limits

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Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche.

Distinguishing himself from his corrupt peers, Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche is launching his first re-election campaign with a promise to abide by the county’s voter-approved 8-year term limits.

As reported earlier, Pinellas is the only county in Florida that refuses to enforce its county commission term limits, even after the unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision that such limits are constitutional.  While term-limited Pinellas Commissioners Susan Latvala, Karen Seel, John Morroni and Ken Welch continue to battle the people in the courts, they also continue to serve on the commission.

Roche, on the other hand, told the Tampa Bay Times in their 2014 candidate questionnaire that he promises to “to honor my pledge to adhere to the will of the voters on term limits and only seek two terms.”

Pinellas County commission term limits were approved by 72 percent of the voters in 1996. Per the county charter Article VI Sec. 6-02 (3): “If approved by a majority of those electors voting on the amendment at the general election, the amendment shall become effective on the date specified in the amendment, or, if not so specified, on January 1 of the succeeding year.”

While a court can invalidate an amendment, there is no leeway here for the commissioners to do so by themselves. Recognizing this, Roche deserves credit for adhering to the people’s clearly expressed will even at his own expense.

Smoking gun: Pinellas commissioners conceded on term limits in 2000

Philip Blumel from Florida Term Limits Blog reports:

A smoking gun has been uncovered in the Pinellas term limits case and the defendant’s’ fingerprints are all over it.

You may recall that Pinellas County Commission and constitutional officer term limits passed with 73 percent of the vote in 1996, but the county refused to insert the amendment into their charter as clearly required by the law due to its alleged constitutional ambiguity.

The county commission and the five constitutional officers sued the voters to get the amendment overturned. The district court denied them, upholding the constitutionality of the term limits.

The constitutional officers continued their suit and requested authorization to add the Pinellas County Commission to the appeal. However, the minutes of the 5/30/00 county commission meeting — uncovered via a FOIA request on behalf of plaintiffs in the ongoing case to force commissioners to comply with the law — clearly show that the Pinellas County Commission chose not to participate.

According to the above document, County Attorney Susan H. Churuti advised the commission of their options and the process of becoming appellants. But, the document says, “following discussion, Commissioner [and current defendant Karen] Seel moved, seconded by Commissioner Parks and carried, that the county commission do nothing and let the ruling stand.”

The constitutional officers went all the way to the Supreme Court, alone. This is why only constitutional officer term limits were reviewed in the split 2002 Cook decision that declared constitutional officer limits to be unconstitutional. The Florida Supreme Court never tackled the issue of county commission term limits until 2012 when it unanimously declared them to be constitutional. For good measure, the Supremes overturned Cook at the same time, declaring without ambiguity that charter county voters have the right to impose term limits on their public servants.

Since then, 10 of the 11 charter counties with county commission term limits are obeying the law. Most of them always did. Only Pinellas — after losing at the district level and then at the Florida Supreme Court — continues to defy the voters and the law.

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Philip Blumel is president of U.S. Term Limits, a single-issue advocacy group based in Fairfax, VA, and a certified financial planner working out of downtown West Palm Beach, FL.