MIAMI — An appeals court recently decided to reject a political committee effort to recall Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez, upholding a trial court's ruling.
Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal's decision to reject a petition for the recall of Mayor Lopez. The petition was created by Providing Effective Government for All Residents and collected 1,779 signatures in February. The committee claimed that Lopez needed to be ousted because he had been hurting the city by failing to attend commission meetings.
"As asserted in the lawsuit, the citizens of Sweetwater have been severely jeopardized by the inability of the mayor to fairly and responsively attend to the needs of the citizens," Benedict P. Kuehne, a lawyer representing the committee, told the Florida Record.
Lopez filed a complaint in a circuit court in March against the county supervisor of elections, the Sweetwater clerk and Gonzalo Sanchez, the chairman of the political committee behind the recall effort. According to Miami Herald, Lopez argued that many people who signed the petition could not read it because they were only fluent in Spanish, and others thought the petition was for an entirely different cause.
A trial court found that Article IV of the city charter, which outlines the mayor's duties, stated that the mayor "may" attend commission meetings but is not forced to do so. Thus, the trial found that Lopez was not obligated to attend commission meetings. Sanchez and the committee appealed the decision.
The appeals court agreed with the trial court, stating that the recall petition "did not state a valid ground for neglect of duty pursuant to the City Charter."
The ruling has disappointed many who have invested in the case and have left some feeling like the decision is a blow to Sweetwater.
"Sadly, the appellate ruling increases the difficulty of citizen oversight of their elected officials," Kuehne said. "This is a confounding and surprising restriction of the constitutional guarantee of citizen exercise of ultimate political power. The ability of citizens to seek the recall of elected officials is a crucial component of American Democracy, and assures responsiveness to the public interest."
Now it will be up to Sweetwater residents to hold Lopez accountable, if necessary, Kuehne said.
"The citizens of Sweetwater will need to determine how best to proceed in gauging the ability of the mayor to properly discharge his responsibilities," Kuehne said.
Lopez maintains that the recall effort was simply a personal attack by the commission and was meant to prevent him from "[cleaning] up the corruption at city hall."