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Nancy Smith

Mayors, It's Illegal to Spend Tax Dollars on Legal Costs for Weston v. Scott

April 17, 2018 - 6:00am
Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli and Gov. Rick Scott
Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli and Gov. Rick Scott

The lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials over state gun laws is a phony. The 12 mayors who signed onto Weston v. Scott know it; now they're doing what they can to look out for themselves, constituents be damned.

I wonder if they're absolutely sure they want to carry on with this. Certainly, there are more disturbing consequences involved in keeping guns out of city hall than perhaps they realized.

Look closely.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature tweaked a 1980 law to make sure gun laws are uniform throughout the state. What it did is call for a $5,000 fine and removal of city officials who try to pass their own firearms laws. In essence, we're talking about a government recall. Only members of state government now are able to create gun legislation in Florida.

Have a look at FS 790.33.

I Beg to Differ

Nevertheless, Boca Raton is the latest city to sign onto the lawsuit filed April 2 in Weston. As the 11 other mayors did previously, Boca Mayor Susan Haynie delivered a how-dare-they speech last week, claiming the state is taking away the power of local governments whose officials know best how to govern their cities.

“The state of Florida needs to stop pre-empting local government,” she said. “We are the closest level of government to the people. We are here 24/7 for our residents and it’s important that we have the ability to govern and to regulate.”

I guess I'm just wondering if the mayors who are bringing this suit realize they're paddling in very dangerous waters. Read up on the opinion Bob Butterworth, Democratic attorney general distributed in Attorney General's Opinion (AGO) 80-75. Butterworth expressed what has always been considered sound legal opinion that tax dollars can't be spent to help defeat recall of a municipal official.

The reason is, the official is the only one inconvenienced by the recall. The city he/she represents is not.

So, none of the municipalities -- not Coral Gables, not Miramar, Cutler Bay, Miami Gardens, none of them, not even St. Petersburg -- can spend tax dollars to try to overturn FS 790.33 because none of the cities has a plaintiff in this suit.

As several attorneys explained to me, the statute is only being attacked on the "onerous" penalties attaching to individual officials. 

Even business and development professional Raul Mas said Sunday via his Linked in page,  "If the mayors were the noble warriors they claim to be, they would be reaching into their own pocketbooks to pay for this lawsuit ... and not making citizens cough up the bucks."

Attorneys are telling me, if they want to put their money where their mouth is, elected officials can go ahead and fund this lawsuit on their own individual behalves and raise money from others to do it -- but it constitutes theft under Florida law, in violation of FS 812.014, for them to do what they're doing in spending public funds for a private purpose.

"This is simply a costly stunt" -- that's the general consensus, one "that does not in any fashion whatsoever" address gun or school safety. Perhaps without realizing, these municipal officials are simply posturing about how unfair it is to visit a penalty upon each of them personally for violating their individual oaths of office "by thumbing their noses at state law and the state Constitution."

Mas says Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli has been proudly strutting around town boasting how happy he would be to pay the $5,000 fine and other penalties for his "civil disobedience" -- actually comparing this disingenuous stunt to the real civil sacrifice of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. We'll see if Valdes-Fauli changes his tune as he learns more about the consequences.

To clarify, "(Mayor Valdes-Fauli) is the only arguably legitimate plaintiff with standing to bring this action." That means any expenditure of city taxpayer funds on the city's behalf is illegal, because this is "merely a suit brought on behalf of the mayor, masquerading as a lawsuit on behalf of the city."

If he needs another Attorney General's Opinion that it's inappropriate expecting the city to pay his legal fees, Valdes-Fauli can have a look at this one from 1974, AGO 74-192.

Although 43 states have “preemption laws” that make it difficult or impossible for cities or towns to pass their own gun regulations, Florida’s 2011 law seeking to hold local officials liable was the first of its kind.

In fairness to Butterworth, the 1987 attorney general was not in favor of the gun law the Legislature passed that year. He agreed with Sarah Brady, wife of Jim Brady and vice chair of Handgun Control, Inc.,  who said, "We believe that this kind of decision should be made on a local level where people know one another rather than applying to a state office." But he never advocated for disobeying the law.

Butterworth understands Florida gun law, to my knowledge still lives in Miramar, and still is a Democrat, as are each of you 12 mayors. Dig him up, ladies and gentlemen. Ask the man with experience how this law works. 

 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.

Comments

This lawsuit is only attacking the continuing trend in Tallahassee to chip away at home rule. The penalties in the firearm preemption legislation are the latest ploy of Tallahassee politicians and their lobbyist friends. When the Tallahassee politicians and wannabes run for office, they tell us government closest to the people is best. But when they get to Tallahassee and the money rich lobbyists squeak, suddenly it is time to preempt the ability of elected officials closest to us to do anything. Now, the Tallahassee crowd has a new ploy, atta h heavy financial penalties to the preemption and scare the neck out of the locals. As Ttump would say - BAD!

People are waking up to the choke hold the NRA has had on Florida's legislature. A law that criminalizes gun reform belongs in Myanmar or Bolivia, not the US. A resident of Big Pine Key set up a shooting range in his backyard, surrounding neighbors complained and local officials said there was nothing they could do about it (due to this law). Pretty sick.

So these officials get to steal tax dollars to pay their personal legal fees because you don't like the NRA? Sounds to me like maybe jail time for theft would be a good solution.

Wow. While I'm against local pre-emption, this is sure getting interesting. A great column.

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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