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After weeks of eligibility questions, Fort Lauderdale's city commission is finally complete

John Herbst takes his seat on the Fort Lauderdale City commission Tuesday Dec. 6.
Gerard Albert III
John Herbst takes his seat on the Fort Lauderdale City commission Tuesday Dec. 6.

The weeks-long eligibility saga of Fort Lauderdale's fired city auditor, turned commissioner, is over.

John Herbst, who won the Nov. 8 election for Fort Lauderdale's District 1 by nearly 3,000 votes, finally joined the commission Tuesday. It ended weeks of legal debate swirling around how long Herbst has been a resident of the city and what exactly residency means according to the city's charter.

"Running for office is not for the faint of heart," Herbst said as he took his seat. "It has been a very interesting year for me, it has not gone according to plan. But then, nothing ever does — God has his own plan."

The city went nearly a month without an active commission because of the delay in swearing in Herbst and two other new commissioners, Pamela Beasley-Pittman and Warren Sturman. Sturman faced a recount, that he won on Nov. 18.

Since then the big question lingering over the commission was whether or not they would allow Herbst to take the seat he was elected to.

On Nov. 14, Herbst's opponent Ken Keechl filed a complaint to the city that Herbst hadn't lived in the city for the required six months before the election, citing information from the Broward County property appraiser.

It is unclear if the complaint was dropped before Tuesday's meeting. The agenda for the meeting initially left Herbst out of the swearing-in, and scheduled a quasi-judicial hearing to take place after 9 a.m.

Instead Herbst, who had previously sworn an oath of office in front of a judge, took his seat without incident.

During his welcome speech, Herbst thanked members of the media for covering his legal back and forth.

"The press [are] not always popular, but play a very important role in holding public officials accountable," he said. "And their support of me and of what has been going on has been extraordinarily helpful. And I appreciate that. I know that going forward, I may find myself on the other end of that scrutiny."

Complaint leads to legal confusion

Herbst did not have his driver's license or voter registration linked to his Fort Lauderdale address until May 31, Keechl's complaint to the City of Fort Lauderdale reads.

In a response, Herbst's attorney Barbra Stern outlined that he signed a lease in Fort Lauderdale in April and listed the residence on his voter registration card — weeks before the six-month deadline — "demonstrating his intent to make Fort Lauderdale his residence."

"If your clients had taken any initiative to conduct their own independent investigation via a public records request to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections, they would have learned that the request for the change in address for his voter registration was actually submitted on April 12, 2022," the letter continued.

While the city charter requires candidates live in Fort Lauderdale six months prior to taking office, it does not define what legal residency means.

Under rules from the city charter, the commission would be the ones to decide if the complaint is worth overturning the results election for. Still, Mayor Dean Trantalis sent a letter to state Attorney General Ashley Moody asking for guidance on how to proceed.

Stern called the letter a "complete sham," and said that if the mayor had followed the city’s charter, her client would have been sworn in, then faced the challenges to his eligibility, while abstaining from any votes regarding his eligibility.

Welcomed to the commission

But the matter appears to have been settled.

Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Steve Glassman, who voted to fire Herbst back in February after he investigated the then police chief as city auditor, welcomed him to the commission Tuesday.

Glassman said he looked forward to working with the three new commissioners. "I think what we can agree on is that we all love this city with a passion. And we want to see this city successful," he said.

According to the Sun Sentinel, City Attorney Alain Boileau informed Keechl that he needed to come in person to City Hall in order for a proper and legal hearing to be held into his complaint. He did not, and told the newspaper he disagreed with that interpretation.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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