Circuit Judge sides with county over City of Brooksville annexation lawsuit

When the City of Brooksville, annexed several properties in 2015, much protest was sparked by the county which led to the county filing a lawsuit in order to invalidate the annexation ordinances. The annexations which the county opposed includes the properties of Grace World Outreach Church, Inc (20366 Cortez Blvd, Brooksville), St. Anthony’s Catholic Church (20428 Cortez Blvd, Brooksville, FL 34601); the property of Samuel C. Griffin and Kellie Griffin (Cortez and Mildred Ave. South); the Hernando County Housing Authority off of Barnett Rd; and the Brooksville Christian Church (6197 Broad St, Brooksville, FL 34601). Judge Donald Scaglione ruled in favor of the county, quashing the annexations on March 22, 2017.

The Statement of Facts explains, “All five of the Annexation Ordinances were based on voluntary annexation petitions relying on powers-of-attorney granted by the respective property owners. The City had entered into separate utility and service agreements with the owners of four of the properties, which granted the City the authority to file a voluntary annexation petition on a property owner's behalf in exchange for the City's provision of water and sewer services. The City relied upon an irrevocable power-of-attorney when filing the Petition for Voluntary Annexation of the Griffin Property.”

The county argued that the annexations were invalid because power of attorney and the utility agreement did not qualify the annexations as voluntary, as the owners themselves did not sign the annexation petitions. The City Manager at the time Jennene Norman-Vacha, whose contract was non-renewed in February 2017, signed the petitions for annexation. The City maintained that this is a common practice among municipalities.

The county and city were not able to come to an agreement during the mediation process, since the county refused to remove an item from the lawsuit, which accused the city of geographical racism. At a conflict assessment meeting in June 2016, Attorney representing the City of Brooksville stated that it was “sort of a slap in the face” to infer that the City deliberately did not annex certain portions of land because of the population that lived there.

While Judge Scaglione did not rule on the racism charge, he agreed with the county’s argument that the property owner’s signature was necessary for voluntary annexation to be valid. “Upon review of the relevant case law and the arguments of the parties, the Court finds merit in the County's interpretation of section 171,044. The Court finds the plain and ordinary meaning of "owner” when construed in light of the statute as a whole, indicates that the signatures of the actual owners of the property are required.”

The City of Brooksville held an Executive Session (closed to the public) to discuss their options before their regularly scheduled council meeting on April 3, 2017.