Comparing the vacancy appointments processes in Oldsmar and St. Pete Beach reveals key differences

When an Oldsmar city council member resigned last month, that city’s charter provided clear rules on how to fill the vacancy. Oldsmar’s city attorney proceeded to write this 3-page memo explaining the city charter’s requirements for filling vacancies, and proposed a process for council to adopt to receive appointment applications, interview applicants, take public comment, and then appoint a person to the vacant seat.

In contrast, the St. Pete Beach charter requirements for commission vacancies are convoluted. There are rules for appointing people that have “if/then” conditionals that are one of the issues in a lawsuit filed against the city, conditionals that the Oldsmar charter does not have.

Also, the St. Pete Beach city attorney put nothing in writing to his city commission explaining the city charter. The response to our public records request for written legal advice equivalent or similar to that of the Oldsmar City attorney showed that no such memo providing legal advice to the commission exists. Nothing was put in to writing, all advice from the city attorney to the St. Pete Beach commission was verbal.

The then St. Pete Beach city commission last month made many ad hoc process decisions (i.e. “make rules of the process as the process plays out”) during the appointment process, and applied different rules to different applicants and for different seats to be filled. There was no uniform or consistent treatment of appointment applicants.

Unsurprisingly, the municipality that has been sued over its appointment process is St. Pete Beach — not Oldsmar. There is a winner in our Tale of Two Cities comparison — and there is a loser. But the ultimate losers may be the residents, taxpayers and other stakeholders in St. Pete Beach.

Neither city’s appointment process has been completed, but there is no indication that anyone intends to sue over the process in Oldsmar.

Oldsmar’s 3-page appointee applicant form asked important questions like:

  • Whether the applicant is registered to vote in Oldsmar.
  • Their voter registration date.
  • Any “possible conflicts of interest” (not just “actual” but also “possible” conflicts).
  • Any appearances before the city “for compensation” in the past two years.
  • Whether the applicant, spouse or employer has any financial interests, directly or indirectly, in city contracts.
  • Whether there are days or evenings the applicant would be unavailable for city meetings.

In contrast, St. Pete Beach didn’t require a form at all from applicants. Some applicants submitted resumes, some submitted letters with their resumes and some didn’t have to submit a resume or a letter, as can be seen by simply reviewing the city’s own information about filling the vacant seats.

Retired attorney Ken Weiss, who has previously been correct on the law in opposition to both St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island, sent this email on December 27th to St. Pete Beach city attorney Andrew Dickman saying that “this appointment agenda cannot be resolved on an ad hoc basis.”

Weiss proposed that Dickman “reevaluate” his advice to the city commission on the appointment process for the district 2 seat and said that this was “a way to avoid litigation.” Dickman mentioned and discussed Weiss’ email in the city commission meeting the next day, but did not advise the commission to do as Weiss asked. There was no vote on the issue, but commission also didn’t chose to do as Weiss asked.

In 2016, Treasure Island city manager Reid Silverboard somewhat shockingly called the Treasure Island police on Weiss, with the facts showing that he did so simply because Weiss lawfully spoke in city hall about a zoning referendum. We reported on that incident at the time.

Neither Silverboard nor the Treasure Island police department acquitted themselves particularly well in that in that incident. Less than five months later, Silverboard requested “a separation agreement” from the city and left his position shortly thereafter. He did not cite the unlawful behavior he had engaged in towards Weiss as a reason, nor did any city commissioner comment on it publicly at any time.

Weiss did not file a 42 USC 1983 (civil rights) lawsuit over the incident, even though he clearly would have had grounds to do so.

Those events in Treasure Island in 2016, may be relevant to the present controversy in St. Pete Beach, not just because they involved Weiss, but because they also involved controversial measures that elected officials and others were trying to impose upon residents.

The process in Treasure Island became contentious in 2016. As shown, the City of Treasure Island unlawfully tried to shut down debate by calling the police on someone opposed to the measures its officials favored. Hopefully, the lesson that such action is unlawful and undesirable has been learned by all.

As for the due or undue process, depending on your opinion, that has played out in St. Pete Beach, there is an old saying that might be applicable: do not attempt to explain with malice that which adequately can be explained by stupidity.

Or did St. Pete Beach’s dog’s breakfast of an appointment process happen accidentally on purpose?

As always….the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories because we expect a lot more article-worthy developments to take place in this matter of commission vacancy appointments.