Lawsuit seeks to remove Clarke from May 19 ballot

There will be a recall election May 19, asking Bradenton Beach voters to either remove or retain Mayor Bill Shearon.

But before that happens, a Bradenton Beach resident is asking the court in a lawsuit filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to invalidate Vice Mayor Jack Clarke’s candidacy to fill the mayor’s seat.

Clarke is running to fill the remainder of Shearon’s term, should the recall election not go the mayor’s way.

John Metz, a retired attorney from California now living in Bradenton Beach, is seeking a declaratory judgment to remove Clarke from the ballot.

Metz, who describes himself as a media contact for Shearon’s campaign, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Clarke, Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett and Pete Barreda, chair of the Committee to Recall William Shearon.

In a rush to hold a vote due to a state statute providing for the recall election date, Chief Judge Andrew Owens set May 19 for the election and the qualifying period for April 14-17.

Clarke resigned April 10 as commissioner/vice mayor, as he is required to do by Florida’s “Resign to Run” statute. Bennett’s office “qualified” Shearon and Clarke for the May 19 election.

But in his April 21 complaint, Metz asserts that Clarke’s resignation — which allows him to retain office until the election — violated state law, which requires such resignations be submitted at least 10 days prior to the date of qualifying.

To both meet the requirements of “Resign to Run” and adhere to Owens’ dates, Clarke would have had to resign on or before April 4.

“A candidate has to legally qualify first, and if he did not legally qualify, he should not be on the ballot,” Metz said in an April 23 interview. “It’s that simple.”

Clarke has stated that he was unaware of the 10-day requirement. But Metz said Clarke’s lack of knowledge is not a valid excuse. Clarke, Metz wrote in the lawsuit, “has been thoroughly aware and knowledgeable of all steps of the recall process” that was initiated in January by Barreda.

Metz asserts that Clarke could have qualified for the election legally as a non-officeholder by resigning before the end of the qualifying period, noon, April 17.

The statute states, “Any officer who submits his or her resignation, effective immediately or effective on a date before the date of his or her qualifying for office, may then qualify for office as a non-officeholder.”

But Clarke did not comply with the statute by immediately resigning, Metz wrote.

Bennett had not seen Metz’s lawsuit when interviewed April 23. He said not being able to resign 10 days before the qualifying period put Clarke “between a rock and a hard space. As far as we are concerned, he met the spirit of the law because he resigned at the earliest possible time.”

Clarke declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Shearon said April 20 the “main thing is I want it done right. Better to have it addressed now.”

Clarke’s request for the city commission to provide him with legal counsel, if needed, prompted an emergency meeting April 23.

“Given the short time frame between now and the actual recall election, I thought it was necessary to call this emergency meeting so we could establish that there would be legal representation for myself and for the city,” Clarke said.

“Everything that has to do with this recall election, to my mind, is official city business. This particular letter refers only to me. However I can see down the road, if different things don’t go in a satisfactory manner to different individuals, that we could well have some other litigation regarding this recall election.”

In an April 23 email to commissioners, Metz asserted that the city is not a defendant in his lawsuit.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to retain the services of Sarasota attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen to represent Clarke and/or the city, if needed, at $250 an hour. Shearon and Commissioner Janie Robertson dissented.

Shearon said retaining counsel now would be premature.

“We’re going to engage an attorney that we have not done any business with,” he said. “I can’t understand why we’re even taking this time to address something that … is what could happen.”

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said the commission is merely getting prepared in case Clarke needs legal assistance. She added that through Metz’s lawsuit, Shearon violated his commitment to voters not to contest the election.

“It is obvious to me that you do not care about Bradenton Beach, or if you did you would have resigned a long time ago,” she said. “We must put this to rest.”

Shearon told Vosburgh he was offended by her statement. “Extremely offended.”

Metz’s wife Lee Anne said April 23 her husband initiated the lawsuit without influence from Shearon.

During the emergency meeting Perry read Article III, Section 7 of the city charter, which states: “The commission shall provide by ordinance procedures for filling a vacancy in candidacy caused by death, withdrawal or removal from the ballot of a qualified candidate following the end of the qualifying period which leaves fewer than two candidates for an office.”

She followed by saying that if Metz is successful in keeping Clarke off the ballot, the commission will need to appoint someone to replace him.

“Mayor Shearon will not be allowed to run unopposed under your charter,” she said. “Your charter is going to make you put somebody else in.”

Bennett said athe ballots are printed. There are 759 registered voters in Bradenton Beach. Some 159 vote-by-mail ballots were mailed.

Voters will cast ballots at the Annie Silver Community Center, 108 23rd St. N., Bradenton Beach.            Bennett said past lawsuits such as this have gone both for and against defendants. Asked what will happen to the ballots and the recall election if Metz prevails, Bennett said, “I have no idea.”