Organizers petitioning to recall three city council members say they’ll sue to undo the county election supervisor’s rejection of the nearly 9,000 signatures they collected, saying the rejection was based on incorrect information about when they started the effort.
John Whittles, the group’s attorney, said at a City Hall press conference Wednesday that the suit will be filed by Friday to ask a judge “to make a reasonable interpretation” of the law to dismiss as “scrivener’s errors” the ineligible dates cited in rejecting the petitions.
The Greater Riviera Beach Community Group/Recall Committee filed papers with the city Oct. 19 to start collecting signatures to oust council members Terence Davis, Lynne Hubbard and Dawn Pardo, for firing popular City Manager Jonathan Evans without specifying why. Under state law, petitioners have 30 days to collect the number of signatures required to spark a recall election. The petitioners submitted their approximately 8,600 signatures to the city clerk Nov. 14, seemingly within that 30-day requirement.
But City Attorney Andrew DeGraffenreidt, in a letter to Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, pointed to a handful of signatures dated prior to Oct. 19 — including one as far back as January 19, and another dated 2016. And since state law says the 30-day clock starts with the first signature, that meant virtually all the others collected in October and November could not be certified, he said.
Bucher agreed, effectively disqualifying the recall effort and sparing the council members from having to defend their terms in a recall election.
But Whittles and Amon Yisrael, an organizer of the recall effort, said the too-early signatures obviously were incorrectly dated, to a time even before the petition forms had been printed for signing. What’s more Evans had not even started work in January, let alone been fired, so that was months before any recall effort was contemplated, Yisrael said, calling the city attorney’s effort to discredit the recall “hilarious.”
Whittles said he didn’t even draw up the petition blanks until “5 a.m. on Saturday the 14th” of October. Since the petitions referred to Evans’ Sept. 20, 2017 firing, they couldn’t possibly have been signed the previous January, he added.
Thousands of citizens signed the petitions on a timely basis, calling for a recall election to be scheduled, he said. “I’m going to ask the court to give that voice some volume,” he said.
“Thankfully the facts are on our side.”
Evans was on the job six months when the three voted without discussion to fire him for alleged “misfeasance.”
Evans had been brought in to replace the previous manager, who the council also fired. He has since been replaced with an interim manager, while the commission searches for a permanent replacement.
The city government has remained in disarray, with several high-level positions unfilled and with the former deputy finance director managing the helm on an interim basis. A few months before the council fired Evans, the assistant city manager who’d been passed up for the manager job resigned. The human resources director gave notice in October. The internal auditor resigned. The city has no assistant human resources director, purchasing director, IT director or fully licensed building services director.
The police chief, recently the subject of a 67-3 vote of no confidence by the county Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, is scheduled to retire near the end of the year. The public works director has been on leave for months, pending an internal investigation, while receiving full pay.