Ken Burke files suit against Pinellas County over election bill lawsuit

pinellas county courthouse
The county filed suit in hopes of overturning a provision that would cut the terms of two County Commissioners short.

Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke has filed suit against Pinellas County over its litigation expenditures to overturn a new statute that would put two of the Commission’s single-member seats up for election in 2022.

Filed Monday, Burke’s complaint argues the suit from the County Commission is an unlawful use of public funds. As the county Comptroller, Burke contends he has the ability to determine the legality of such expenditures.

“The clerk, as auditor, is required by law to refuse to sign and deliver a county warrant for an unlawful expenditure, even though approved by the Board of County Commissioners,” the complaint states, defining his role as “a watchdog of the board” that the funds “are spent for a public purpose.”

The Board of County Commissioners, in a 4-2 vote on April 26, decided to take legal action against a portion of one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ priority bills (SB 524), which he signed earlier that week. Several Commissioners felt the county was targeted by lawmakers, because the measure only applies to Pinellas County. The Board filed suit three days later.

The provision is folded into the new law, which overhauls state election rules. It requires County Commissioners elected in single-member districts to run for re-election after decennial redistricting, including those elected in 2020. The proposal as written would uniquely impact Pinellas County, which alone meets the criteria under the legislation. It would require two Commissioners — Rene Flowers and Karen Seel — to run for re-election after only serving two years of a four-year term.

In the lawsuit filed by the Board, the county challenges the provision’s constitutionality on two grounds. First, the Board alleges the measure is an illegal bill of local application against the Florida Constitution, and second, that it applies retroactively by shortening the terms of already elected Commissioners.

“It shortens the four-year terms of two incumbent County Commissioners, who were duly elected by the electors to four-year terms in 2020,” the Board’s complaint reads.

However, in Burke’s complaint, the Comptroller argues the Commission does not provide how the county, as opposed to the specific sitting Commissioners, “have a present need for a declaration.”

“The Clerk believes it is most advantageous to obtain a declaration from the court regarding this question while the Leon County litigation is in its early stages so that if such expenditures be declared as not lawful, those persons who may individually have standing to challenge the new statutory language would have the ability to do so in a timely manner,” Burke’s complaint states. 

Burke’s lawsuit will determine if the county moves forward with the litigation, or if it is more fitting for individual Commissioners to pursue their own legal challenges.

Florida Politics has reached out to Burke and Pinellas County Commission Chair Charlie Justice, but did not hear back by the time of publication. 

The new election provision has been the subject of tension between Pinellas County Commissioners and one state Representative.

During their meeting to determine whether or not to file suit, Commissioners not-so-subtly referenced state Rep. Chris Latvala, who previously confirmed to Florida Politics he will seek election to the Pinellas County Commission in the 2022 cycle after mulling a run for several months. The targeted language of the bill led several Commissioners to point to suspicion of the legislation’s intent, suggesting it would help the Pinellas County legislator run for Seel’s seat in 2022.

However, Latvala has fought back against such accusations. The lawmaker, who is not listed as a sponsor or co-sponsor of the committee bill, previously told Florida Politics the legislation has nothing to do with a potential run. He instead contended it just puts Pinellas County in line with most other Florida counties. Latvala also emphasized the bill was proposed last year too.

Latvala has criticized the lawsuit as “wasteful.” Pinellas Commissioner Kathleen Peters, who Latvala regards as a friend and a good lawmaker, voted against pursuing legal action along with Commissioner Dave Eggers, citing the risk of retaliation from the Governor.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


  • Nancy

    May 17, 2022 at 3:17 pm

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  • Edward Lyle

    May 19, 2022 at 8:18 am

    If a Latavla is involved… there’s little doubt that dirty deeds, public corruption, and sexual misconduct is afoot. Pinellas has become the anchor of corruption for the I-4 corridor.

    Go get ’em Mr. Clerk.

Comments are closed.


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