By Dan Moffett
After getting off to a false start in February, the organizers of a movement to recall Ocean Ridge Town Commissioner Richard Lucibella say they are determined to get the effort back on track in March.
“Though the hullabaloo is over, the interest in removing him has not wavered,” said Haley Joyce. “People are absolutely as determined as ever to do this.”
The hullabaloo grew from a dispute between Lucibella and Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi that ultimately led to the chief’s forced resignation in January. Joyce and her friend Nan Yablong decided to seek Lucibella’s recall in frustration over Yannuzzi’s departure and the direction they believe the town is heading.
“We need people on the commission who don’t have agendas,” Yablong said. “We definitely need a change.”
By design, the recall process is neither quick nor easy. The state Legislature mandated that all municipalities follow the same rules, and the first requirement is that recall organizers submit a petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters.
Joyce and Yablong thought they had 25 more signatures than they needed in February, but confusion over the exact number of signers required, and problems with some of the names caused them to fall nine signatures short. And that means the organizers have to start over.
“We plan to begin a full-on push this Saturday (March 7),” Joyce said. “What’s been really nice about this is that it hasn’t been divisive. There hasn’t been one particular part of the town or one neighborhood that’s been for the petition. There’s been support that’s run the gamut of the town.”
The Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office oversees the petition process. Ocean Ridge officially has 1,487 registered voters, meaning the organizers need 149 valid signatures to get the recall off the ground.
If they meet that threshold, then Lucibella has five days to respond. He can reject the call to leave office, or step down or say nothing at all. After his response, the recall organizers then have 60 days to submit petitions signed by 15 percent of the registered voters, or 223 names.
Once that requirement is satisfied, then the elections supervisor can schedule a special election during which only two propositions would appear on the ballot:
“Richard Lucibella should be removed from office.”
“Richard Lucibella should not be removed from office.”
Should voters decide to remove the commissioner, then the commission could appoint someone to serve out the balance of his three-year term which expires in 2017.
Under the state’s recall rules, there are only seven grounds for removal: malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties and conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude.
The organizers are charging Lucibella with malfeasance over what they believe was the harassment of Yannuzzi — for “threatening a public official.” They also are charging the commissioner with violating the state’s Sunshine Law in a campaign to force the chief out of office, an allegation Lucibella has repeatedly denied.
As for replacing Lucibella, Joyce says Yablong, who has a background in corporate human resources, would be a good choice, given the turnover in management that the town will soon go through. Besides losing its police chief, Ocean Ridge figures also to lose to retirement its town attorney, clerk and perhaps its manager during the next year or so.
“I would certainly consider filling the seat,” Yablong said.
“The town has a wonderful opportunity to make some changes and excel in what we’ve been lacking in the past,” Joyce said. “But that’s not happening right now with the people we have running things.”