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Date of Issue: July 14, 2010

Stoltzfus recall moves to courtroom

Stoltzfus

Anna Maria city clerk Alice Baird makes room in her office for the certified petitions to recall Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus that were returned by Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat. He certified 256 of the 261 signed petitions. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat notified Anna Maria city clerk Alice Baird July 9 of the certification of the second petition submitted by the committee to recall Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus.

Stoltzfus was notified later that day at his Pennsylvania home and the recall process will now proceed to the courts.

According to the Florida statute on recall, Baird is supposed to “immediately” notify Stoltzfus and present him with the verified papers. Stoltzfus then has five days to resign from office or Manatee County Circuit Court Chief Judge Lee Hayworth is supposed to set a date for a recall election. Sweat has tentatively identified Sept. 21 to Hayworth as his preferred date for the recall election.

But first there were some anxious moments while the city attempted to find Stoltzfus.

“I have not been able to locate Commissioner Stoltzfus,” Baird said last week.

The Florida statute is unclear about what Baird should do if the recall petition couldn’t be served on Stoltzfus.

Stoltzfus had notified the city he would be absent from the July 8 commission meeting, but the clerk’s office did not know where to reach him Friday.

Stoltzfus’ attorney Richard Harrison declined a request by city attorney Jim Dye to accept the notice on behalf of his client, saying he lacked such authority.

Harrison e-mailed the city July 12, stating his client does not intend to voluntarily resign.

Sweat certified the signatures of 256 registered voters for the second petition submitted by the committee. The second petition required a minimum of 15 percent (204) signatures of the city’s registered eligible voters as of the most recent city election (November 2009). The 256 voters represents 19 percent of the city’s 1,362 registered voters.

The Recall Stoltzfus Committee first had to obtain a petition with the signatures of 10 percent (132) of the city’s voters before it could circulate the required second petition containing a statement of defense from Stoltzfus.

The recall election must be held within 30-60 days from the five-day expiration of time that Stoltzfus has to resign, but there’s no guarantee the recall election will be held in mid-September, if at all.

Harrison has a motion awaiting a hearing in the Manatee County Circuit Court to have the recall declared “legally insufficient.”

When the request was denied by Circuit Court Judge Ed Nicholas, Harrison appealed to the Florida Second District Court of Appeals in Lakeland. The appeals court declined to hear the matter.

But the original motion remains with the circuit court and Nicholas indicated previously he was waiting for the results of the second petition before scheduling a hearing on Harrison’s motion.

Sweat said that Nicholas must decide Harrison’s motion before Hayworth sets an election date. If Nicholas agrees with Harrison that the petition is invalid, no election will be held, Sweat said. However, the recall committee could appeal an unfavorable ruling. If Nicholas decides the recall petition is valid, it goes to Hayworth to officially set a date for the recall election.

Sweat said Florida’s recall statute provides that Hayworth may allow candidates to qualify to run for election to Stoltzfus’ commission seat in the same recall election. If Stoltzfus is recalled, his successor is simultaneously elected. If the recall fails and Stoltzfus maintains his seat, the election of another candidate for the office is invalid, he said.

“But it’s up to the chief judge,” Sweat said.