By Steve Plunkett

The Town Council filled its fifth seat on Jan. 25, turning to a resident who tried but failed to qualify to run for mayor.

12369355886?profile=RESIZE_400xThe council chose Keith Black, the only person to send in a letter of interest in serving as an alderman, to fill the seat vacated by almost 12-year veteran Sue Thaler at the end of December. Black is the council’s third recent addition, with Mayor Ted R. Gross and Alderman Jeff Duncan being appointed in December.

Council members hesitated in making Black’s appointment because Black was not in attendance — even though they had appointed Duncan in absentia at the previous meeting. Town Attorney Keith Davis assured them they could go ahead.

“Unlike most raffles, you don’t have to be present to win,” Davis said. “He does have to be here to be sworn in.”

Duncan, already appointed, took his oath of office at the January meeting.

Black had planned to run for the mayor’s position but complained at the December council meeting that the county supervisor of elections rejected five of the 23 signatures he had collected to support his candidacy. Mayoral candidates in Briny Breezes must have 20 signatures.

To show that Black had not been singled out, Alderwoman Kathy Gross held up the petition she signed supporting her husband’s run. Her signature also was rejected.

“So I want you to know it’s not” the town clerk’s fault. “It is through the supervisor of elections that this happened. There was no underlying anything going on. I just wanted to let you know that,” she said.

Ted Gross took an opportunity at the January meeting to deliver his first speech as mayor.

He focused on the power of home rule and recalled that before the state Legislature granted it to municipalities, “if we wanted to do something, like we wanted to put up a stop sign for instance … we would have to get state permission.”

He also displayed a pie chart showing that almost half of Florida’s 411 towns and cities have fewer than 5,000 residents, Briny Breezes included.

“We can be influential,” Gross said.

An instance of that came up at the meeting. Davis told the council that Briny Breezes back in October was the first municipality in the state to pass a resolution opposing the Form 6 requirement mandating elected town officials make a more detailed disclosure of their personal wealth. The resolution also authorized Town Manager Bill Thrasher to spend up to $5,000 to challenge the new state requirement.

Davis advised the council that the influential Miami-based law firm Weiss Serota was preparing a lawsuit seeking a judge’s declaration that the requirement is unconstitutional and invalid.

“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be a winner or a loser. I don’t know,” Davis said.

The law firm wants its clients to pay $10,000 each to be part of the lawsuit, he said. So far most of the plaintiffs are cities and towns in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Briny officials asked Davis to bring a Weiss Serota lawyer to their February meeting. They hope they can get a reduced legal fee if they participate.

Elected officials had to resign by Dec. 31 to avoid making their net worth, income and other personal financial details public.

Thrasher has said Form 6 prompted Thaler and previous Mayor Gene Adams and Council President Christina Adams to resign their seats.

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