Politics: The Recall That Wasn’t & Upcoming Referendums

The Recall That Wasn’t

With 1,719 initial signatures submitted last month, the recall effort against Mayor Vince Lago seemed poised to push into its second phase. But that conclusion was premature. “End the Corruption” needed 1,650 signatures from registered voters in Coral Gables to advance. But the county’s Elections Division office judged that only 1,533 were legitimate. Recall over.

Paid canvassers were used to illegally solicit signatures during the recall effort.

Maria Cruz, chairman of the campaign, claims there was a deliberate effort to delegitimize petitions. In an April 27 email to Gables residents, she explained that her own name was signed on multiple petitions by Lago supporters “to sow chaos and create duplicates.” However, each signature collected by the campaign was supposed to be witnessed by a representative from End the Corruption, which presumably reviewed them before submission.

Meanwhile, the organization is dealing with its own issues of “misfeasance and malfeasance” — the grounds for which it sought Lago’s recall. According to the City of Coral Gables, law enforcement is actively investigating End the Corruption for violating state laws regarding the use of canvassers in recall efforts.

According to Florida Statute 100.361, “No person shall employ or pay another… for circulating or witnessing a recall petition.” The offense is a second-degree misdemeanor, with a fine and/or up to 60 days in county jail.

Residents of the Gables have reported (and recorded) numerous conversations with canvassers who admitted to being paid $15 per hour to solicit signatures. Beyond that, the canvassers spread misin- formation, including a false claim that Lago was being investigated by the FBI. — Kylie Wang

Three Referendums

Among the more contentious proposals at City Hall this year have been the doubling of commissioner salaries, the rejection of an attempt to move the city elections to November, and a proposal to draw on the city’s emergency reserve funds for capital projects. While the latter was just a verbal proposal by Commissioner Ariel Fernandez, the other two items were passed by a 3-2 vote, with Fernandez joined by Commissioners Melissa Castro and Kirk Menendez and Mayor Vince Lago and Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson dissenting.

Convinced these votes did not represent the will of the citizens of Coral Gables, in March, a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Alex Bucelo, a Gables attorney who lost to Fernandez in last year’s election. That committee, Accountable Coral Gables, has now gathered more than 4,000 signatures to put these items up for a citywide referendum:

1) To require that all future salary increases for commissioners be approved by voter referendum.
2) To move the April city elections to coincide with the national November elections, which would save the city $200,000 and dramatically increase voter turnout.
3) To require that any drawdowns of the city’s emergency reserve funds be approved by four-fifths of the City Commission.

The 4,000-plus signatures collected (only 3,200, or 10 percent of registered voters, are required) will be turned into the city clerk to be certified by the county Supervisor of Elections. Once the 10 percent threshold is reached, Coral Gables’ city attorney needs to draft the ballot language and get it approved by the Commission. The items would then be voted on as part of the statewide primaries on Aug. 20 or the national elections on Nov. 5.— J.P. Faber