MIAMI – A Florida appeals court has reversed two final summary judgment orders in favor of Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez. 

In a March 14 opinion filed in the Third District Court of Appeal, the court agreed that the trial court erred in its judgment regarding resolutions adopted by the Sweetwater City Commission. The case stems from a January 2016 lawsuit the commission filed to resolve the city’s disputes with Lopez. The dispute was related to a proposed budget they mayor submitted for the 2015-16 fiscal year. 

City of Sweetwater

The proposed budget increased Sweetwater’s millage rate from 2.74 mills to 4.5065 mills to compensate for the previous year’s deficit due to increased expenses. During a July 2015 special meeting, the commission proposed to set Sweetwater’s tentative millage rate at 2.7493 mills, the same rate as the previous year. When given the lower millage rate, Lopez instituted several layoffs to propose a balanced budget.

The following month the commission approved three resolutions, directing Lopez to rescind any layoffs that took place between July 2015 and August 2015, imposed a moratorium on layoffs lasting until Sept. 30, 2015, and eliminate un-budgeted positions. Lopez subsequently vetoed all three resolutions but the commission overrode each veto.

In September 2015, Lopez issued a new proposed budget reflecting the 2.7483 millage rate. After approving it as the city’s tentative budget, the commission held two meetings where it proposed amendments, which were later adopted. However, Lopez vetoed the final budget, which the commission overrode. 

The commission subsequently filed a January 2016 lawsuit to resolve the city’s disputes with Lopez. Later that month Lopez filed suit against the city and commission, alleging the final budget violated Florida law and the city’s charter. He also alleged the commission’s resolutions “infringed on the mayor’s executive powers to appoint and remove city employees.” 

The trial court agreed with Lopez and granted summary judgment his favor on all counts. But the appeal court disagreed and reversed the judgment, saying “genuine issues of material fact remain in dispute.” In response to Lopez’s claim that the final budget violated state law, the court cited an affidavit from a certified public accountant retained by the city. 

In her affidavit, the accountant stated the final budget was balanced and complied with the requirements of law.

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