MADEIRA BEACH – There will be no April 17 recall election involving Commissioners John Douthirt and Nancy Oakley.
The petition to recall Douthirt and Oakley said the two had committed malfeasance, defined as wrongdoing or an illegal act, when they voted to hire a budget director rather than a finance director under the direction of then-City Attorney Thomas Trask. The city charter says only the city manager can hire a finance director. The city manager position was vacant at the time.
Trask had told the commission they had to have a budget done to comply with state statutes and needed someone to prepare it. He said the commission could hire a budget director rather than a finance director without violating the City Charter.
A ruling by Circuit Court Judge George M. Jirotka of the 6th District Circuit Court, issued on April 4 at 5:26 p.m., states, in part:
“The vote by the City Commissioners to create and appoint a budget director at a duly noticed City Commission meeting held on May 9, 2017, does not violate an express prohibition contained in the City Charter. Pursuant to Section 166.241, Florida Statutes, the City Commission is required to adopt an annual budget. The City Charter does not expressly prohibit the City Commission from creating or hiring a budget director to assist the City Commission with preparing an annual budget.
The grounds for recall set forth in the recall petition are legally insufficient to allege malfeasance as required by the recall statute.”
The judge’s decision, which upheld Douthirt and Oakley’s motion for a temporary injunction, cancels the recall election which had been set for April 17.
Contacted after the judge’s ruling was announced, City Manager Jonathan Evans said that “this administration will remain focused and committed to working with anyone committed to doing what is in the best interest of the residents, visitors, and businesses here in the city of Madeira Beach. Our goal is, and will continue to be, unity and prosperity for all our community.”
Douthirt told the Beacon that “the judge affirmed what I believed the whole time.”
Douthirt said he and the other newly elected commissioners relied on the city attorney for his advice.
“We have to depend on the city attorney to give us the proper guidance,” he said.
Now that the uncertainty of a recall election has ended, Douthirt said the commission’s job is “to listen to the citizens and to pull the city back together.”
“It’s a good day for Madeira Beach. We can put all this to rest and move forward,” Oakley said.
The city will still have to pay the election’s significant cost.
The estimated $100,000 to $150,000 that the recall election was expected to cost will likely not be avoided. In order to comply with requirements for mailing ballots in advance of the April 17 election date, the plan was to send the ballots out by overnight mail on April 3, the same date as the hearing before the judge. It was hoped the judge would announce his ruling on that date. Since the ruling did not come until late on April 4, it was too late to stop the mailing.
A check with the supervisor of elections website confirms that 1,192 ballots were mailed on April 3 to registered voters of Madeira Beach. Now, the election is off and the ballots are useless.