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10 News Investigators: Term limit suit seeks to remove four Pinellas commissioners

9:26 PM, Jun 27, 2012   |    comments
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Pinellas County commissioners Ken Welch (upper left), John Marroni (upper right), Karen Seel (lower left), and Susan Latvala (lower right)
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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- "Throw the bums out!"

That's what some Pinellas voters are saying about county commissioners who have served for more than eight years.

A group of citizens has filed a lawsuit as the result of a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling on term limits. If the suit is successful, the commission won't have a quorum and would not be allowed to conduct business.

Former Tarpon Spring Mayor Bev Billiris says, "It's about the voice of the people."

She says four Pinellas commissioners -- Ken Welch, John Marroni, Karen Seel, and Susan Latvala -- should be thrown out of office because they've been serving for too long.

Billiris is part of a group, complete with a Facebook page, that has filed suit because of a referendum voted on in 1996 for limited political terms in certain elective offices. It passed 253,480 to 95,334.

Billiris says, "They did not follow the will of the people. The people voted 78 percent to have term limits for county commissioners."

Term limits didn't go into effect because, in addition to county commissioners, it included what's called constitutional officers --  the clerk of court, property appraiser, sheriff, supervisor of elections, and tax collector. All of the elected officials took the decision to court and lost. But the constitutional officers decided to appeal.

However, instead of joining the appeal, county commissioners opted out after Commissioner Karen Seel made a motion that the board of county commissioners do nothing and let the ruling stand. But when the constitutional officers won their appeal, the commissioners thought the ruling applied to them as well and the Pinellas County charter was never amended.

The group filed suit because, last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled term limits are legal for county commissioners.

If this lawsuit is successful, the majority of the Pinellas County Commission, the four who have served more than eight years and thumbed their noses at the will of people, would be immediately thrown out of office and a special election would have to be held. Those taking on the commissioners say that's the way it should be, because that's what voters want.

According to Billiris, "When you're elected by the people, it is not a given right to hold a job."

But it appears the county commissioners who believe they have the right to hold the job as long as they want will soon be spending taxpayer money to thwart the will of the people who said eight years is enough.

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