A few words missing from the Hialeah City Charter should prevent Mayor Carlos Hernández from seeking reelection in November, according to a lawsuit filed in a Miami-Dade civil court.
The suit, filed earlier this week, alleges that Hernández has completed the two “consecutive terms” in office allowed by the charter and therefore cannot run again. It adds that the charter does not say that each of the terms is four years.
Hernández served one two-year term, 2011-2013, when he replaced Mayor Julio Robaina, and then one four-year term.
“Simply put, in plain English, a term is a term, and absent any durational adjective, section 2.01(d) of the City Charter must be construed in accordance to its plain meaning and grammatical syntax,” the lawsuit argues. It was filed by former Hialeah Mayor Julio Martínez, represented by attorney José “Pepe” Herrera.
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Herrera told reporters that he hopes the lawsuit will be settled within 30 days. The deadline to qualify as a candidate for the November elections is July 10.
Hernández told el Nuevo Herald that he plans to seek reelection and has already opened a campaign account.
“I am sure that if we go to court, we will win,” said Hernández, who branded the lawsuit a political attack. “Hialeah’s election season started and the clowns, the ghosts from the past and the people we all know have started the circus.”
Hialeah’s election season started and the clowns, the ghosts from the past and the people we all know have started the circus.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández
Herrera, who said he’s representing Martínez pro bono, said they would not use personal insults “to avoid tarnishing the legal process.” Martínez said he does not plan to run for the mayor’s seat and is only interested in seeing the law obeyed.
Former Hialeah attorney William Grodnick, in a 2013 legal opinion, described a term of office as four years but added that an official who fills a vacant seat partway into a term should not be counted as having served a term.
Herrera and Martínez argued that Grodnick issued a contradictory ruling in a similar case years earlier.
“But the Hialeah charter is clear,” said Herrera. “And it was approved that way by voters [in 1995] to keep politicians from staying in power forever. If Hernández is reelected, he would wind up serving as mayor for nearly 11 years.”
Hernández, who was council president in 2011, took over the mayor’s seat when Robaina resigned to run for mayor of Miami-Dade County. Hernández was elected to the post in a special election in November of that year and was reelected in 2013, when he defeated Martínez and Juan Santana.
Unlike the Hialeah charter, other county and municipal charters contain language that specifies the duration of a term before an elected official becomes term limited.
The county charter also specifies that the time in office after filling a vacant seat does not count toward term limits. That has allowed Mayor Carlos Gimenez to be elected three times to the mayor’s post. He was first elected in 2011 to fill a vacancy after Carlos Alvarez was recalled, then was reelected in 2012 and 2016.
Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar