Recall Stoltzfus election ‘shall proceed’
Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled today, Aug. 24, that a recall petition against Anna Maria Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus was “legally sufficient” to proceed with the recall.
Stoltzfus filed a lawsuit in May against the Recall Commissioner Stoltzfus Committee and its chair, Bob Carter, claiming the recall petition lacked proof of misfeasance of malfeasance on his part and was “legally insufficient” for a recall. Stoltzfus asked the court to dismiss the recall.
Judge Nicholas, however, disagreed, after hearing the case Aug. 12 and reviewing the submitted memorandums and case law.
“Ultimately, then,” wrote Nicholas in his order, “the recall grounds here, as stated, are sufficiently definitive to enable the plaintiff, as the public official charged, to respond to and meet the allegations before the public. The allegations are concise, clear and contain valid grounds of either malfeasance, misfeasance, or both to support the recall process. The petition is legally sufficient and, as such, the plaintiff’s requested relief is denied. This recall shall proceed.”
Twelfth Circuit Court Chief Judge Lee Haworth already has certified the recall petitions and scheduled a recall election in Anna Maria for Sept. 7.
Gene Aubry has qualified to run on the ballot to fill the remainder of Stoltzfus’ term, should the recall be successful. Sotltzfus also qualified to seek the remainder of his term, should the recall vote go against him.
Under Florida law, the recall vote and the vote for a commissioner to complete the remainder of the recalled official’s term occur on the same ballot.
The recall effort began in April when a group of residents led by Carter formed an official recall committee after more than 800 e-mails on Stoltzfus’ private computer, pertaining to city business, were made public.
The e-mails contained number statements by Stoltzfus that the committee believed to constitute misfeasance and malfeasance and, under Florida law, are grounds for a recall vote.
The committee was required by law to submit two separate petitions signed by eligible Anna Maria voters. The first needed a minimum of 136 signatures, while the second required at least 204 signatures.
After the first petition was certified by the supervisor of elections, Stoltzfus filed a motion in circuit court to dismiss the petition on the grounds the committee did not prove its case and the recall was illegal.
Nicholas eventually forwarded both petitions the Haworth, who certified them and ordered the special recall election for Sept. 7, pending the outcome of the motion to dismiss the recall.
Carter said the decision by Nicholas “validated everything I and the committee had set out to accomplish. It tells us the system can work for the people.”
Although Carter said he expects Stoltzfus to appeal the decision, he said it’s time to put the recall “into the hands of the public.”
Neither Stoltzfus nor Harrison replied to The Islander’s request for comment on this story.