Florida Mayor Alleges Fraud in Recall Effort

An effort to recall the mayor of Sweetwater is raising allegations of fraud, conspiracy and voter intimidation, and once again threatening upheaval in a town perpetually locked in a political tempest.

Last month, a political committee linked to a city commissioner turned in nearly 2,000 signed petitions calling for the ouster of Orlando Lopez, a strong mayor who serves as the small city's manager. The committee, Providing Effective Government for All Residents, says Lopez is an absentee administrator who skipped at least five commission meetings and workshops last year amid a financial crisis.

"He's neglected his duty," said J.C. Planas, an attorney who represents the committee. "It's not just that he missed the meetings, it's that he didn't send staff either. Some of these meetings had to be canceled."

The Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections certified 1,779 petition signatures on Feb. 23, enough to allow the recall effort to move forward under a process laid out in state law. A second petition drive circulated along with a rebuttal by Lopez in the west Dade 'burb just north of Florida International University's Modesto Maidique campus will likely begin this week.

The political committee now has 60 days to obtain valid signatures from 15 percent of the town's roughly 10,000 registered voters, triggering a recall election barring Lopez's resignation. If the vote is held and goes against the mayor, Lopez would become the first elected official in Miami-Dade to be recalled since county mayor Carlos Alvarez in 2011.

But the mayor doesn't intend to let that happen.

Lopez filed a complaint Friday in circuit court against the county supervisor of elections, Sweetwater clerk, and Gonzalo Sanchez, the chairman of the political committee behind the recall. He is challenging the verification of signatures and pushing to invalidate the petition drive.

His case is based on two arguments: that he's not actually required to attend meetings under the city charter, which says he "may" attend, and that signatures were obtained through fraud.

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