- By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
With less than a week to go, the Riviera Beach council race heated up Wednesday, with incumbent Dawn Pardo sending out a mailer alleging challenger Julie Botel “looked the other way while Colombian drug dealers used her apartment.”
“It is clearly a desperation move,” Botel countered. “It’s pretty low. I was a victim then, and now I’m a victim of her lies and smears.”
Botel was living in Harrisburg, Pa., about 10 years ago, when she had a real estate agent find a tenant for the condo she owned in the Tiara Building on Singer Island, she said. The condo association vetted the tenants, but neither she nor they had any idea the couple — Mexican, not Colombian — were drug dealers, she said. She provided a letter from an association board member confirming that.
Pardo’s mailer, in dramatic fashion, recounts a DEA raid on the condo. The couple living there was arrested and agents hauled off “duffel bags of money, over $750,000 of cash hidden in different places,” Pardo’s political consultant, Richard Giorgio, said Wednesday. “It’s only mudslinging if it’s not true. “These are facts,” he said.
Pardo is facing her toughest challenges in 10 years in office, as the city council has been under fire from the public for its firing without explanation of City Manager Jonathan Evans last September. A citizens group, The Greater Riviera Beach Community Group/Recall Committee, submitted petitions with 8,600 signatures calling for Pardo and colleagues Terence Davis and Lynne Hubbard, who voted for the firing, to face a recall election. The group is defending the effort from a court challenge by the city.
A circuit court judge Wednesday rejected a city request that he toss out the petitioner’s case as a sham. But he left the door open for the city to seek dismissal of the recall effort on other grounds in a hearing to be held in a few weeks.
Giorgio defended the mailer as truthful and relevant. “Do Riviera Beach residents really want a clueless councilwoman who claims she didn’t even know what was going on under her own roof, yet she wants the voters to believe she has wherewithal to oversee something as complex as the City of Riviera Beach?” he asked.
Prosecutors made clear “she knew or should have known after reasonable inquiry” and taken precautions, he added.
Giorgio dismissed her statement that Botel was being victimized. Botel mailers have said Pardo repeatedly violated sunshine laws, is being investigated by the State Attorney’s Office and that the former city attorney is suing Riviera Beach over his firing. “It’s all not true.”
The former manager told her he’s about to sue, Botel corrected herself. The rest was based on reports in the media, she said.
“Who needs to do this stuff? she said of the negative campaigning. “Let’s talk about the issues: the waste, the lack of transparency, the hiring unqualified people.”
In the recall hearing, Judge James Nutt said he was not comfortable with Riviera Beach’s effort to have the petition effort dismissed as a sham. “A sham is a falsehood,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a falsehood going on there.”
But the citizens group still will face arguments that election law doesn’t allow a supervisor of elections or a judge to throw out the 19 invalid petitions that poisoned the group of 8,607.
Petitions must be filed within 30 days of when the signature collection effort begins, and in this case some petitions were dated long before — even before Evans was fired. The attorney for the group, John Whittles, told the judge that these were mistakenly dated months before the time he created the form to be signed, in October.
But since the 30-day count starts with the first petition, the Supervisor of Elections and the city argued that the law required that all the petitions must be disqualified because they weren’t submitted by deadline. “There is no legal basis for the plaintiffs to ask the court to ‘look behind’ sworn, witnessed and verified recall petitions in order to ‘make up’ a new start and end date for petition signatures,” Richard Jarolem, Riviera’s attorney, wrote in his pleadings.
“You can’t pick and choose” which petitions to throw out, he said.