Mayor Calabria Fights With Lawsuit

In the latest development in South Pasadena’s City Hall wrangling, commissioners have agreed to drop efforts to remove Mayor Dan Calabria from office in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the mayor against the city earlier this month.

“The other commissioners decided not to continue with the action to suspend or remove the mayor to avoid an ugly fight and unnecessary expense to the city – a proposal to ‘bury the hatchet’ and move on,” City Attorney David Ottinger told the Gabber in an email Tuesday, June 23. “I hope the mayor will do the same…

“This lawsuit will cause renewed dissension and more legal expenses, and it will be a distraction from other city business,” Ottinger added.

The lawsuit, filed June 8, 2015 in Pinellas County, also names City Commissioner Arthur Penny and independent investigator W. Russell Hamilton, III of Port St. Lucie.

Titled “Complaint for declaratory relief and writ of mandamus,” Calabria’s lawsuit seeks to have the court rule that the commissioners’ motion to dismiss the mayor is illegal. It also seeks to have Penny give Calabria  documents relating to Penny’s election campaign that the mayor sought via a public records request and to have Hamilton turn over to Calabria requested documents related to his investigation of the mayor.

Calabria was elected to office in March 2013 and has been at odds with the other four city commissioners since. In March 2015 the commissioners called a special vote on a motion to remove the mayor from office “for reasons of malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence.” They based their motion on a report prepared by Hamilton at Ottinger’s request.

At the last minute the commissioners decided to suspend the vote and agreed to try to mediate the impasse. According to Calabria’s lawsuit, however, the commissioners later opted against mediation.

“[…] the Commissioners continue to assert that they have a right to remove the Mayor from office based on the City Charter and the pending motion for removal,” Calabria’s lawsuit reads. “In addition, there is good reason to believe that one or more of the Commissioners intend to use the motion for removal and the Hamilton Report against the Mayor if he runs for re-election in March of 2016.”

For his part, Hamilton, in a letter to the city commission dated June 18, demanded that the city cover any legal expenses incurred defending himself in the case and that it protect him from any potential liability.

Calabria’s lawsuit states that the mayor is entitled to recover costs and legal fees involved in filing the lawsuit as it concerns his official position. Calabria said that his legal expenses to date fighting the Commissioners’ charges against him totaled $5,000. He said invoices from the city attorney related to the dispute totaled $14,000 between September 2014 and May 2015 and that Hamilton’s investigation cost $12,000 to $14,000.

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