Judge: Ghovaee Appointment to Madeira Beach Commission Is Invalid
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
A circuit court judge says the Madeira Beach Commission violated the Sunshine Law when it appointed House Ghovaee to an open seat.
MADEIRA BEACH – This city no longer has a vice mayor after a ruling that the City Commission violated the Sunshine Law when it appointed him to the board.
“The process used by [the commission] to fill the vacancy in office violated the Sunshine Law,” Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Jack Day wrote in his decision.
Day added, “Furthermore, the appointment of Housh Ghovaee as District 4 commissioner is void ab initio.”
The decision comes a week before a city election in which Ghovaee is running for a full term on the board.
Ghovaee, who cannot be seated at the commission table unless he is elected, said he intends to attend tonight’s (March 7) meeting. Ghovaee said he would take the three minutes allotted residents for public comment to assure his supporters he’s still running.
“I’m not giving up,” Ghovaee said.
The city issued a press release that said in part:
“The net effect is that since there is a new election in a week, nothing changes unless there were any votes that Housh Ghovaee was involved in that was a split vote of 3-2. Since Mr. Ghovaee’s appointment, there were no 3-2 votes.”
The press release noted that the city has 30 days to appeal the ruling. That’s a decision that will likely be made after the election. The press release noted that the discussion about that decision could be held in a “shade” meeting, or one that is held in private. Records from shade meetings are available after the case is closed.
The District 4 seat held by Ghovaee was abruptly vacated last July when Pat Shontz resigned in the middle of a contentious meeting over two proposed developments. The developments had been the focus of an ongoing battle in the city between officials and developers and residents who said the proposed developments were too intense for the area. The opponents wanted smaller projects on the sites.
The disputes resulted in multiple legal claims and ethics charges against city employees and some commissioners, including Shontz.
After Shontz’s abrupt resignation, the city had 30 days to fill the opening. They did so by asking for applications. Once those applications were turned in, they sent each to commissioners and had them rank the applicants. Once that was done, the city notified the winner – in this case, Ghovaee – who came to a commission meeting to be sworn in.
Ghovaee was not only sworn in, the other commissioners chose him to be vice mayor.
The process was a longstanding one in Madeira Beach, said Mayor Travis Palladeno. It was even used to appoint members of other city boards. The idea, Palladeno said, was to avoid embarrassing the losers and to allow the winner to bring his family with him to the swearing in. (After the complaint was made and the lawsuit filed, the city changed its methods when appointing Ingrid Ferro-Spilde to the District 3 seat vacated by Elaine Poe.)
But some residents thought the vote to choose a new commission member should have been done in public. Two of them, William G. Gay and Cathy P. Moore, sued.
The court agreed with them.
Monday’s decision does not finish the lawsuit. The city will still have to pay attorney’s fees to Gay and Moore. The amount will be decided later.
The judge has also not yet ruled on another part of the lawsuit: a claim that the city failed to make records related to the ethics claims public.
For information about Madeira Beach, go to madeirabeachfl.gov.
Madeira Beach Commission | Sunshine Law | Housh Ghovaee | Election | TB Reporter
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