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Date of Issue: May 19, 2010

Recall committee submits signed petition

The recall of Anna Maria Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus from office is moving forward.

Recall Commissioner Stoltzfus committee chair Bob Carter on May 14 presents Anna Maria city clerk Alice Baird the committee’s petition for a recall election for Stoltzfus. Carter also presented Baird with the required fee of $24.70 in dimes — 10 cents for each voter who signed the petition. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Bob Carter, chairman of the Recall Commissioner Stoltzfus committee, presented city clerk Alice Baird with the recall petition May 14, as part of the process to have the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections hold a special recall election. It would be the first-ever recall election in Manatee County, according to Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat.

The petition contained the signatures of 247 of the city’s 1,362 registered voters. Baird forwarded the petition to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office that day. The elections office will certify the names and signatures as eligible registered voters, in addition to certifying the petition and any accompanying documents.

The committee far exceeded the number of needed signatures — a minimum of 10 percent, or 136 of the city’s eligible registered voters — to submit the first petition of the recall process. The committee will eventually have to submit a second petition with the signatures of 15 percent or 204 of Anna Maria’s registered voters before the elections office can schedule a recall election.

“It’s been a great, inspired effort by a group of people whose commitment to the concept of public trust and the law is unwavering,” said Carter when he handed over the petition.

Scare tactics

Carter dismissed the “scare tactics” and threats from some Stoltzfus supporters as diversions to turn the voters’ attention away from the “real, un-addressed issues” of Sunshine Law violations and prejudicial behaviors.

“We intend to stay with this and see it through,” he said.

Carter said the volunteers got every type of response imaginable while soliciting voters to sign the petition.

Many people signed, a lot of people wanted to know the issues, some people refused to sign, others said they were Stoltzfus supporters, and many others signed and asked what they could do to help the committee.

“We now have a very good group of volunteers,” said Carter. The committee obtained 247 signatures in three weeks. “We’re in good shape for the next phase.”

The second petition must contain a minimum of 204 signatures of the city’s registered eligible voters, and must be submitted following certification of the first petition, and after providing Stoltzfus five days to submit a 200-word defense statement that would be attached to the second petition.

Recall petition

The petition letter submitted by Anna Maria’s Recall Commissioner Stoltzfus committee states that the grounds for a recall election are malfeasance and misfeasance.

Bob Carter said the committee made its decision after reading the e-mails pertaining to public business Stoltzfus submitted to the city as the result of a March 10 public records request by Michael Barfield of Sarasota.

Carter said a committee member also obtained the opinion of an independent, local attorney on the Stoltzfus e-mails before signing the petition.

The petition submitted to Baird states:

“Public records evidence that Stoltzfus violated the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law by holding electronic meetings and using liaisons to discuss public business which had not been advertised to the public.”

 Stoltzfus’ e-mail communications “contained libelous and inflammatory remarks concerning city staff, citizens and professional consultants, in violation of the city’s stated policy against personal attacks.

“He has also made numerous statements (in the e-mails) in violation of the requirement for a fair hearing in a quasi-judicial proceeding, thus abusing his authority in order to achieve a desired result.”

The committee letter also contends that Stoltzfus used “evasive devices” to circumvent state statutes, and “conspired with others to deceive citizens and 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. His conduct cannot be legally justified and conflicts with state law.”

The committee requested that an election to recall Stoltzfus from office be held “pursuant to Florida Statute 100.361(4).”

Stoltzfus response

Attorney Richard Harrison of Tampa, representing Stoltzfus, said the commissioner has not broken Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, or any other law.

If the recall petition goes forward, it would “be appropriate” for Stoltzfus to file a lawsuit, he said.

Some Stoltzfus supporters have written letters of support to The Islander and some have displayed signs in their car and home windows that state “Stoltzfus Supporter.”

Stoltzfus supporter Terry Schaefer described the recall committee as an “attempt to usurp the judicial process,” saying it was “renegade, vigilante justice.”

Stoltzfus voters

Stoltzfus was elected to the city commission Nov. 3, 2009, as one of five candidates seeking to fill one of three vacancies on the commission.

Sixty percent (810) of the city’s 1,349 registered voters — as of 29 days before the election — cast a ballot and were allowed to vote for up to three candidates, according to a Manatee County Supervisor of Elections official. Of the 810 ballots cast, 220 were absentee ballots.

Dale Woodland drew 560 votes (24.9 percent), John Quam received 500 votes (22.3 percent) and Stoltzfus got 472 votes, or 21 percent of the total vote, to take the third and final commission seat.

Christine Tollette had 379, while David Gryboski ran last with 335 votes.

Anna Maria had 1,349 eligible, registered voters 29 days before the Nov. 3 election of Stoltzfus, but that number grew to 1,362 by Nov. 3, according to the elections office. The Florida statute on recall states that the number of signatures needed is based on the registered voters as of the preceding election.