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Charter forces mayor to resign

Eileen Ferdinand, who is running for a commission seat, learns her office must be vacant before the council can schedule an election.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


PORT RICHEY -- Eileen Ferdinand's career as Port Richey mayor will come to a close sooner than expected.

Ferdinand said Thursday that she would resign Tuesday as mayor, effective immediately, so the City Council could schedule a mayoral election at its June 27 meeting. Under the city charter, Ferdinand, who is running for the District 5 County Commission seat, said her post had to be vacant in order for the council to set an election.

Ferdinand had originally wanted to resign on the July 7 filing deadline -- as required by the state's resign to run law -- and make it effective Sept. 5. In that scenario, Port Richey residents would get to choose their next mayor at the September primary election, and she could stay on the job longer.

The Florida Attorney General's Office had said that was acceptable under the law, but upon further research, Ferdinand was told that under the city charter she had to be out of the job before an election could be set.

The resignation has to be effective before Wednesday, because that is the agenda deadline for the Port Richey City Council. Ferdinand said the election has to be set at the June 27 meeting so anyone wanting to run can file by the July 7 filing deadline.

The mayor has said she gave great consideration on whether to run or stay mayor and knew she would be leaving sometime. That it comes so soon is bittersweet.

"It's probably been the greatest honor of my life to serve as mayor of Port Richey," she said. "But it's more important to me that the people can vote for their mayor than for me to stay on as long as possible."

Vice Mayor Bob Leggiere said Wednesday that he was definitely running for mayor, which means he too will have to resign to run.

What happens now on the council is unclear. Under the city charter, if more than 180 days remain in a mayor's term, a special election has to be held.

However, if less than a year remains in a regular council member's term, the council appoints a replacement. When Leggiere resigns to run for mayor, his replacement will be appointed, and that replacement will serve until April, when Leggiere was to be up for re-election.

Phyllis Grae, the city's Zoning and Planning Board chairwoman who ran an unsuccessful bid for council in April, has said she would like to take Leggiere's spot when he resigns.

As Vice Mayor, Leggiere moves up to the mayor's role effective Tuesday. Leggiere could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Those council members reached at home Thursday night were surprised the resignation will come next week but knew it was coming eventually.

"We all knew this was going to happen," council member Joe Menicola said. "It was just a matter of time."

Council member Tom Brown said they would just have to prepare for a transition.

"I guess I was gearing up for later," he said. "I guess I have to get geared up for now."

-- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com.

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