Palm Beach Gardens residents will decide this November whether to limit city council members to two terms.
In a late-night meeting of lawyers Wednesday, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office agreed to allow two term-limits questions proposed by a citizens group on Nov. 4 ballots in the city. And in an expedited hearing Thursday morning, Circuit Court Judge Meenu Sasser said she would issue an order approving that agreement.
Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits, a political committee headed by two former council candidates, sued to force Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher to place the two questions on the ballot: one to restrict council members to two three-year terms, the other to make that restriction apply to current members. Two of the city’s five council members, Joe Russo and Eric Jablin, have held office more than 20 years.
The political committee had spent months and thousands of dollars collecting the required 3,800 signatures for each question, representing 10 percent of the city’s registered voters.
The council in July passed a resolution authorizing Bucher to place the measures on the ballot. They did that knowing that their passage would mean foreshortening some of their political careers.
But Bucher, who earlier told city clerks that she wanted to keep any local questions off the November ballot to allow voters to focus more on county and state questions, withheld her approval of the resolution, saying the city had failed to include the ballot language in it. That led Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits to sue.
The group sought the expedited court hearing to make sure the matter got heard in time for the upcoming election. But James D’Loughy, a leader of the term limits group, and Kenneth Spillias, attorney for the supervisor of elections, worked until about 10 p.m. the day before to hammer out the agreement.
“It means we have a green light to let the people be heard at the ballot box,” D’Loughy said Thursday after the hearing. He said he doesn’t plan to withdraw the lawsuit until the questions appear on the ballot, however.
Michael Peragine, who led the group’s effort to gather signatures, said he was “thrilled” to have the petitions done and the dispute resolved.
“Considering I haven’t slept more than 25 hours a week for the last few months while managing the petition drive, we’re both looking forward to catching up on time with our families over the next week,” Peragine said.