Pinellas County Commissioners are wasting tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit

Financial tunnel
The Commission’s lawsuit is nothing short of quixotic

The Pinellas County Commission voted last week to challenge a provision of the new elections law that would require the county to put all Commission seats on the November ballot.

The rationale, according to Commissioner Pat Gerard and three others who voted in favor of the lawsuit, is that the clause cuts their terms and “was put in for one person.” She’s referring to Rep. Chris Latvala, who has confirmed he would run for a seat on the Commission this cycle.

While Gerard may have a point, the Commission’s action is nothing short of quixotic.

Putting every seat on the ballot after districts are redrawn is not a novel idea. Multiple County Commissions — including Hillsborough’s — do so. So does the Florida Senate. And they do so without complaining that their terms may be cut short.

But the Pinellas County Commission’s lawsuit ignores the benefits of putting all seats on the ballot — namely, ensuring all voters are represented by their government.

When district lines change, the voters who live in the districts change. Those voters may have never cast a ballot for the person who represents them, and if they had had the opportunity, they may have opted to vote for someone else.

It may seem like an elementary point, but in representative government, it’s the only point that truly matters.

In the case of the Pinellas County Commission, the new District 5 includes nearly 20,000 residents who now fall within Commissioner Karen Seel’s district but who did not when she was elected two years ago.

If suing the state for the right to deny voters the ability to elect their government representatives is frivolous enough, the lawsuit also disregards another duty of public servants: being responsible stewards of taxpayer money.

There are valid reasons for County Commissions to pay for outside counsel, such as when the county is being sued.

But in this lawsuit, the County is not a defendant, it is the plaintiff. And the county has no compelling interest — the only parties affected by the new law are the Commissioners themselves.

The Pinellas County Commission will still have seven members no matter what the court decides. The only thing that will change is the County’s account balance and whether Seel and Commissioner Rene Flowers must run for another term in 2022 or 2024.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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