St. Pete Beach Residents File Complaint to Protect Voting Rights after Chaotic Resignations

January 4, 2024 by
St. Pete Beach Residents File Complaint to Protect Voting Rights after Chaotic Resignations
Protect St. Pete Beach

January 4, 2024

Your neighbors at Protect St. Pete Beach have had a busy holiday due to the unprecedented and dangerous transfer of power we have experienced in our City Commission.

For background:

  • At the City Commission meeting on December 12, 2023, Commissioners Mark Grill and Chris Marone announced they were resigning because they did not want to comply with the new requirement to submit financial disclosures under Form 6. 
  • The Commission held a special meeting on December 18th where two other commissioners, Ward Friszolowski and Chris Graus, announced their impending resignation for the same reason. 
  • Our City's Charter requires a special election to be called within 15 days where there are simultaneous vacancies of two or more commissioners. However, the City Attorney deemed a special election an “impracticability,” and evaded the charter’s mandate for a timely special election by devising a plan for the Commissioners to hand-select appointed commissioners through a “staggered” process, thereby bypassing the democratic process. 
  • The City Attorney admitted to the Commission that the result would be an appointed commission in the place of an elected commission and may be subject to a legal challenge.

As we followed this appointment process, several obvious problems revealed themselves. Even if one believes that staggering resignations on a daily basis would make them not “simultaneous,” no authority under Charter Section 3.06 exists to allow the Commission to appoint instead of elect Commission seats 2 and 4.  Finally, even if such appointments were legal, the process by which the Commission conducted these appointments was inconsistent, biased, and tainted by commissioners attempting to pre-approve their successor.

In the backdrop of this political chaos, the City Commission is expected to vote on several critical issues for the City before the scheduled regular election on March 19, 2024, including major conditional use permits for the Sirata and TradeWinds Resorts, hiring a new city manager, and beach renourishment strategy.

City commissioners are democratically elected to represent the will of the people they represent. Violating St. Pete Beach residents’ right to vote because of the “impracticability” to hold a special election falls grossly short of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and state and local laws. 

While the resigning Commissioners may have had their reasons to resign in protest to the new financial disclosure requirements, the consequence should not be to deprive the citizens of St. Pete Beach of a democratically elected representative commission, especially on the cusp of upcoming controversial votes.

As a result of these events, Protect St. Pete Beach has been joined by other concerned residents to jointly file a complaint against the City's actions. There is no excuse for seating appointed commissioners in defiance of our City Charter. "Impracticable" does not mean "impossible", and allowing our community's future to be determined by unelected and unaccountable administrators is neither fair nor, in our opinion, legal.

We invite you to read the complaint and exhibit, available to download here:

We did not reach this decision lightly. We appreciate the volunteers who put themselves forward for the appointment process. However, when it became clear that the process itself was in direct opposition to our City Charter, we were compelled to respond.

As residents and taxpayers, we want to resolve this matter as quickly and efficiently as possible. We are simply requesting that the City follow its charter, and elect our commissioners as required.

We greatly appreciate our supporters who have come together to help us start this process. Legal challenges are expensive – please consider contributing to fund this effort.

Finally, this is not first time St. Pete Beach residents have had to litigate to have our voices heard. Experience has shown that residents are and will remain committed to fighting for our community. It is our hope that we can chart a course in a different direction with an elected City Commission that will prioritize making St. Pete Beach a livable residential community for generations to come.

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