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Date of Issue: August 11, 2010

Stoltzfus recall in court Thursday

Get to courtroom 5E at the Manatee County Judicial Center early Thursday.

In what some long-time Anna Maria residents claim is the most divisive issue ever in this quiet little city of about 1,800 residents, the future composition of the city commission and government could well be at stake beginning at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 12.

That’s when Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas is scheduled to hear a motion by Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus to dismiss a recall petition against him.

Nicholas apparently anticipates plenty of testimony and legal maneuvering as he has scheduled the hearing to take place until 5 p.m.

A large number of Anna Maria residents are expected to be in the courtroom to hear the issue that has divided the city into two camps since the recall effort began to gather steam in early April.

The series of events that has led to the hearing began March 10, when consultant Michael Barfield of Sarasota made a public records request for all of Stoltzfus’ e-mails on his home computer pertaining to city business.

Among the more than 800 e-mails Stoltzfus submitted were e-mails indicating Stoltzfus would support and finance a lawsuit against the city, and had financial backers, but wanted his name kept out of the proceedings.

Other e-mails showed Stoltzfus favored bulldozing retail-office-residential projects on Pine Avenue already built by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC, along with some Pine Avenue residences.

Stoltzfus said in another e-mail that he looked at one PAR site plan for Pine Avenue and could “tell in 10 seconds” that it did not comply with the city’s comprehensive plan and land-development regulations.

Additionally, Stoltzfus wrote in his e-mails he wanted to fire city planner Alan Garrett and city attorney Jim Dye and “kick the ass” of Mayor Fran Barford, whom he also called a “donkey.”

Attorney Valerie Fernandez, representing Barfield, is also the legal counsel for PAR.

After the Stoltzfus e-mails were made public, resident Bob Carter formed the recall committee and gathered the required signatures for the first recall petition.

Once the first petition was accepted by Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat, Harrison filed a motion to dismiss the recall petition, claiming it was “not legally sufficient” to meet the Florida recall statute.

In its petition, the recall committee, among other allegations, claimed Stoltzfus had violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, “made libelous and inflammatory remarks against city staff, citizens and professional consultants,” violated the requirements for a fair and impartial quasi-judicial proceeding, abused his authority, and sought to “bring financial harm to the city of Anna Maria by encouraging potentially harmful and expensive legal action against the city, while hiding his own involvement.”

In his motion to dismiss, Harrison said the recall petition was “so vague and ambiguous that it does not furnish (Stoltzfus) fair, reasonable and adequate notice of the charges alleged as grounds for recall.” Stoltzfus is “unable to frame an appropriate defensive statement” because of the vagueness of the charges, Harrison alleged.

Harrison also said the charges of misfeasance and malfeasance were invalid.

Stoltzfus has denied any impropriety and has claimed he is only doing what he promised when he was elected to a commission seat in November 2009.

Chief Judge Lee Haworth of the 12th Circuit Court certified the second petition and ordered the recall election for Sept. 7. He also indicated to Nicholas to move promptly on the motion to dismiss.

If Nicholas denies Stoltzfus’ motion, the recall petition will be upheld and voting Sept. 7 will proceed as ordered — unless an appeal is filed. Any appeal could potentially delay the recall election.

Under Florida law, voting for a commissioner to complete the remainder of the recalled commissioner’s term is done at the same time and place as the recall vote.

Stoltzfus has qualified to run for the possible remainder of his term at the same time voters are deciding whether or not to remove him from office. He will share the balloting for his term with architect Gene Aubry, the only other candidate to qualify for the special election.

Aubry is running on a campaign of ending the conflict and divisiveness in Anna Maria, examining land-development regulations for necessary changes and ensuring the comp plan and LDRs do not conflict.

Stoltzfus has said he will not back down from his opinions on Pine Avenue parking, safety and the comp plan and LDRs.

If the recall election is held Sept. 7, the ballot will ask voters:

“Should Harry Stoltzfus be removed from the office of Anna Maria City Commissioner?”

Voters will fill in the circle next to either “Harry Stoltzfus should be removed from office,” or “Harry Stoltzfus should not be removed from office.”

Underneath the recall question, voters will be asked to select their choice for city commission, either Eugene E. Aubry or Harry Stoltzfus.

Voters will fill in the circle next to the candidate of their choice.

Even if the recall election is held, it may not end political tensions in Anna Maria.

The Nov. 2 general election has two mayoral candidates who appear to be fully on opposite sides of the political fence.

Mayor Fran Barford did not seek re-election and Mike Selby and Sandy Mattick have qualified to run for Barford’s vacated seat.

No candidates filed to run for the two commission seats up for election Nov. 2 and incumbents Jo Ann Mattick (mother of mayoral candidate Sandy Mattick) and Chuck Webb are automatically returned to office.

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