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DEMOCRATIC PARTY 

Oakland recall movement fails 

May 11, 2024 at 5:14:35 PM

Andrea Charur

Reporter

Recall Oakland, the movement to recall Oakland Commissioners Rick Polland and Joseph McMullen, had until Thursday, May 9, to turn in the required number of signatures to start the recall process.


They fell short. 


The petition for each commissioner needed 338 signatures. Volunteers collected about 200 signatures apiece by the deadline. The recall is officially over. 


Anne Fulton, chair of the recall committee, said she and her volunteers heard from residents that they were reluctant to sign because they were afraid of backlash from neighbors and further harming relationships that had grown cold after the town’s mayoral election. 


“I feel sad that people are scared of retaliation,” Fulton said in an interview. “It's very disheartening that someone else can hold that much power over people.” 


The petitions to recall Polland in Seat 1 and McMullen in Seat 4 began circulating a month ago after Polland, McMullen and Vice Mayor Mike Satterfield nominated and voted Sal Ramos back into his former position as Seat 3 commissioner on April 9. Mayor Shane Taylor was the only member of the commission to nominate another applicant, Yumeko Motley, a litigation attorney.


Ramos officially vacated Seat 3 on March 12 to run for mayor, and the seat remained open during the election. Vacancies on the town commission are filled by the commission and require a majority vote of three commissioners, according to the town charter. This time, the commission opened Seat 3 to an application process, and 13 residents had applied to join the commission.  


Many residents have said that electing Taylor as mayor, with 65 percent of the vote, was a clear indication that the town wanted change and wanted people on the commission to help Taylor enact his vision. There was anger that Commissioners McMullen, Poland and Vice Mayor Satterfield immediately voted for Ramos without any discussion of the other applicants.


The Fultons were among those residents and started the petitioning for a recall that same day. 


Only Polland and McMullen were eligible for recall. According to Florida Statute 100.361 officials must be at least a quarter of the way through their terms before they can be recalled, and so Satterfield and Ramos, newly elected were spared. Petitioners needed signatures from 10 percent of Oakland’s registered voters, or 338 signatures, as of March 2024, within 30 days to move ahead with the recall process. 


Fulton had her recall committee of six people to coordinate the effort. A team of 10 volunteers went door-to-door to collect signatures. A donor paid the postage so she could send  out mailers to registered voters, alerting them about the recall effort and urging them to sign the petitions. 


Meanwhile, Fulton sat outside the Healthy West Orange Arts and Heritage Center in downtown Oakland several times a week, for a month, collecting signatures. 


“I sat there for every scheduled event,” she said. “People came and sat with me and chatted with me and kept me company, or brought me food and drinks.” 


But while many Oaklanders wanted change on the commission, Fulton said people were “very timid” about putting their name on a public record. People sent her messages and went to her table wanting to talk about the petitions but not sign, she said. Volunteers got similar reactions when knocking on doors. 


“It was people who disagreed with the commission, people who were still upset about the  wasted money or them just putting Sal back in,” she said, referring to the approximately  $250,000 the town spent to dredge sand from Johns Lake Outfall Canal that had blocked two resident docks.  


And some residents just didn’t want the animosity that had grown up during the heated mayoral election, in some cases fracturing lifelong friendships, to continue.


I think a recall wii [sic] cause more harm that [sic] good,” a resident wrote on the private Facebook group Oakland Residents. “It will only continue to harbor ill feelings among people.”


Oakland Residents has been the informational hub for all things recall-related. It was started during the election by Fulton and her husband Shaun. Many in the 269-person group have commented on posts about the recall, sharing their support for the petitions. 


However, Fulton said some have grown weary of politics, which may have contributed to a lack of signatures. Others have commented on the page and directly to the Fultons that the group is fueling division with constant political content and talk of the recall. 


“We just went through an election cycle that literally pitted neighbor against neighbor,” one  person posted in Oakland Residents. “My neighborhood needs to heal.” 


Fulton sent a letter, obtained by VoxPopuli, to the four commissioners May 3, in which she restated the reasons for the recall —  from the town funds spent on the Johns Lake Outfall Canal and Satterfield not residing in town full-time to putting Ramos back in office. 


“Hundreds of us are standing up and saying that your words aren’t good enough,” the letter said. “Please show us that you hear us with your actions.”


The letter also states that Florida Auditor General has been asked to do a “full audit of every aspect of leadership of the Town of Oakland.” The Auditor General is empowered to conduct operational audits on local governments to look at “controls, compliance” and “best practices,” according to Audit Manager Derek Noonan. Gainesville city officials were threatened with removal after an 2022 audit revealed its public utilities, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), was $1.7 billion in debt and officials had been using it as an ATM. GRU is now governed by a board picked by Gov. Ron DeSantis. 


Despite the failure of the recall effort — a second effort is “on probation” — Fulton hopes residents remain engaged in town government. 


She believes the greater number of residents consistently turning up higher attendance at commission meetings is an indication people will keep paying attention, especially since Polland, McMullen and Ramos are all up for reelection in 2026.


“Even if we didn't reach our goal,” she said, “everyone knows that the town is awake, and we're watching every move.” 


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