BY BUDDY NEVINS
Recalls – the attempt to toss an elected official from office – usually fails when it reaches the courthouse.
This time Tamarac voters have a real chance of driving a city commissioner from office even if it ends up in court. They may really accomplish what so many other Broward voters have failed to do – successfully recall an elected.
The first step in recalling Commissioner Patte Atkins-Grad has passed. Recall supporters presented the Tamarac City Clerk’s Office on Wednesday with 1,468 signed petitions.
Historically the petitions don’t count. Judges and not voters decide recalls.
Politicians have traditionally sued to block their recall. Once in court, recall supporters have had trouble proving that politicians were guilty of recallable offenses — misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance.
Usually they are only guilty of voting for unpopular measures.
Recalls were once largely a political tool. In the 1970s in Sunrise, Miramar and other west Broward cities, recalls were as common as bulldozers. Commission rivals used them for revenge or leverage in an era when city hall politics was all elbows.
Petitions were easily gathered. Judges quickly dismissed them out as groundless.
Pembroke Park Mayor Barney “King” Koretsky beat back recalls 30 years ago, fighting one all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.
Politics was also behind the recall against then-County Commissioner Marsha Beach’s problem in 1981. She beat back a recall effort run by Bill Glynn, chairman of the Broward Republican Party at the time. Glynn was upset Beach supported spending more money to cope with growth.
A judge ruled that voting for more spending wasn’t misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance.
A few years later, then-Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti faced the same type of recall from residents upset with her pro-development positions. A judge ruled the petition was invalid.
The petition drive in the late 1990s against then-Pembroke Pines Commissioner Kitty Thibault was ruled groundless.
And on and on.
Despite these past decisions, Atkins-Grad has real problems.
She was acquitted of charges she traded votes for favors from a pair of corrupt developers. Her defense appeared to be that she was too stupid to know it was illegal.
Malfeasance is intentionally doing something legally wrong. Misfeasance is breaching trust by improperly performing a legal act.
If Atkins-Grad fights the recall in court, will a judge agree that she didn’t “intentionally” do anything because she too dumb to know it was wrong? Did she “breach the trust” of the voters by allowing developers’ gifts to sway her vote.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Recall Chairman Al Entin, a tough veteran of the courthouse as a long-time defense attorney, is champing at the bit to get Atkins-Grad on the witness stand.
If she sues to block the recall, Entin said, “The best she will do is tie it up in courts. That’s on her dime.
“I don’t think the acquittal proves anything,” Entin told Browardbeat.com. “It’s like O. J. Simpson. The question is whether she took the gift or money. She never denied it.
“Let’s get her on the stand without the Fifth Amendment protection and see if she took a gift and didn’t disclose it as required.”
He said that once he finishes with her testimony, he believes it will prove misfeasance, malfeasance or even nonfeasance.
“It won’t be that hard a hurtle,” he said.
Entin’s bombast aside, many recall cases are decided without testimony. The judge issues an opinion after reading motions. Entin may never get Atkins-Grad on the stand.
Still, I agree with him that there are good, legal grounds to recall the Tamarac commissioner. My opinion really doesn’t count.
In the end if this ends up in court, only one opinion will count. And we call that person, Your Honor.