Judge: Plaintiff 'likely to succeed' in challenge of High Springs referendum
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.
A legal challenge to have a proposed High Springs charter amendment declared null and void is “likely to succeed,” a judge ruled Wednesday.
In a complex decision, Circuit Judge Stanley H. Griffis III partially granted city resident Ross Ambrose's motion for a temporary injunction against the city.
Griffis ruled that the Nov. 6 referendum on a charter amendment to establish a city borrowing limit may move ahead as scheduled. But if voters approve the amendment, it will not take effect until the legal challenge over it is resolved at a future hearing.
“If the proof is consistent at the final hearing with the proof presented at the hearing for injunction, Ambrose will prevail,” said Linda Rice Chapman, the attorney representing Ambrose, said of the decision.
Vice Mayor Bob Barnas, who supports the referendum, described the decision as a partial victory for the city because the proposed amendment will go to the voters.
“If the voters vote no, I say settle,” Barnas said. “If they vote yes, what a can of worms that opens.”
Barnas also noted that Griffis ruled in favor of the city on allegations that the City Commission did not properly advertise and notice meetings to consider the ordinance that put the referendum on the ballot.
The amendment would prohibit the city from borrowing more than $1 million in any single loan or bond without super-majority approval of the City Commission and approval of the voters in a referendum.
In the preliminary decision issued Thursday, Griffis said the City Commission's 3-2 decision at a July 31 meeting to increase the debt limit from $1 million to $2 million was a “significant” change that required that the process of adopting an ordinance start over.
That meant issuing a public notice of the proposed ordinance change and holding a public hearing. Those steps did not happen.
Griffis also ruled that the majority of Mayor Dean Davis, Barnas and Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin did not follow proper procedures with subsequent votes to reconsider and change the ordinance they had just approved at the July 31 meeting.
After then-City Attorney Raymond Ivey informed commissioners that their increase in the debt limit was a substantial change that required re-advertising the ordinance, the majority changed the borrowing limit from $2 million back to the original $1 million.
In his opinion, Griffis said an elected body may not amend an approved ordinance by motion. Instead, a full hearing on a new ordinance is required.
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