PINELLAS COUNTY GETS SUED BY ITS CITIES by Roxanne Escobales

08/24/06

21 Pinellas cities try to protect their autonomy as they say the county is attempting to reduce their power. The county says it’s just trying to make Pinellas-wide decision-making less cumbersome. WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports from Clearwater City Hall.

ACT: On behalf of 21 cities, a lawsuit will be filed today in circuit court against Deborah Clark, the Pinellas County board of commissioners and the Pinellas Charter Review Commission.

Today in the Clearwater city council chambers city attorney Pam Akin said the lawsuit against Pinellas County, one of its commissions and its supervisor of elections was being filed as she spoke this afternoon. Akin and Alan Zimmet, who is the city attorney for both Largo and Safety Harbor, represent most of Pinellas County’s two dozen cities.

The group of 21 are seeking an injunction to prevent seven questions appearing on November’s ballot.

ACT: what the voters can’t tell is they are giving up a substantive right to vote … its’simply not clear that they’re giving up a right that they have currently

This right is known as the dual vote. In a 1999 change to the Pinellas County charter individual cities have the right to vote on any county-wide ordinance to decide whether or not they will adopt it. Pinellas is the only county with what is known as the dual vote, because it takes a vote on the county level as well as the city level.

City attorney Alan Zimmet:

ACT:

Examples of areas where the group of 21 are concerned home rule would be wrested from them include the hours allowed for sale of alcohol and running their own fire departments and police stations.

But the head of Pinellas County’s Charter Review Commission, or CRC, said that the potential referendum to get rid of the dual vote is not a hungry grab for power. The CRC is the body that looks after the charter. Alan Bomstein is its Chair. Bomstein said there is no hidden agenda.

ACT:

Another charge the 21 cities make in their lawsuit against the county is that the CRC violated Florida’s Sunshine laws. When the CRC voted on the wording of the ballot item, some members did it by phone.

The CRC chair Bomstein said the commission did not purposely try to circumvent transparency.

ACT:

Only three Pinellas cities did not join the lawsuit. They are Indian Rocks Beach, Dunedin and Redington Beach. Although Dunedin and Redington Beach are contributing funds to a marketing campaign that will be launched to educate voters about the issue.

The group of 21 hope to have a court decision by mid-October, although it could take longer. The elections that would put the referendum to voters takes place on November 7th.

Roxanne Escobales. WMNF News. Clearwater City Hall.

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