PORT RICHEY, Fla. — The group of citizens behind the effort to recall Councilman Terrence Rowe started circulating a second round of petitions this week.
The text of that petition now includes a defensive statement from Rowe himself, responding to the first round of petitions in what are his first public comments since his March arrest and subsequent suspension.
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“These petitions claim that I wrongfully exercised my lawful authority, and as an official, committed misconduct via the misuse of confidential information,” Rowe said in the statement of the first round of petitions. “The statements in this petition have not been proven in a court of law; they are accusations and therefore have no merit.”
“For the citizens, it isn’t about that,” said recall effort organizer Lisa Burke. “It’s about we need that council seat filled.”
Burke said about 179 signatures were collected last month for the first group of petitions. Those were verified by the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections office, and the new recall petition and defense packet was put together by the city and delivered to Burke this week.
It includes the petition, a statement from Rowe, and copies of each of the petitions signed last time around. State law next requires valid signatures of 15 percent of the city’s voters for the effort to move forward.
Burke said they need 269 people to sign, but they’re aiming for 280.
“We need that council seat to do city business. We’ve had problems with not having a council member there, which means no quorum,” said Burke.
All part of the process
The defensive statement is part of the recall process laid out by state law.
After a city clerk receives notice that the required number of valid signatures has been collected in the first petition process, a certified copy of the petition is served to the elected official in question. That official then has five days to file a defensive statement to be included in the recall petition and defense packet for the second wave of petitions.
The official is not required to submit a statement and the process can move forward without one.
“I have no intention of allowing my removal or exercising my right to resign until I have my day in court, or I decide otherwise,” Rowe said in his statement.
Rowe also called into question the validity of the first round of petitions. He pointed out that they did not include a place for a witness to sign to verify the signatures collected.
City Attorney James Mathieu said that will be something for a judge to decide when the petitions head to court.
How to move forward
Back in March, Rowe was arrested for allegedly conspiring with former mayor Dale Massad during a jailhouse phone call to interfere with the investigation into Massad by trying to intimidate a police officer involved in the case.
Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him shortly after. As a result, Rowe isn’t able to perform any duties associated with his position as councilperson.
“’I’m not guilty’ – fine, go take care of what you need to do,” said Burke. “Let the city get back to business and walk away from this with your head held high.”
“We as Americans need to be ever watchful against those individuals that seek to use drastic measures to remove our duly elected officials from office for their own gain,” Rowe said in the statement.
Burke said the city can’t afford to wait for the legal case against Rowe to play out before filling that seat.
The group has a little less than two months to collect the signatures needed to move forward with the recall effort.