By Leo Coughlin
Holding public office can be perilous, if for no other reason than the office holder is vulnerable, under the rubric that anyone can accuse another without recourse.
An aspect of this came up last week at the Belleair Bluffs City Commission meeting where the commission decided that an elected official can seek reimbursement for the cost of a legal defense in an action instigated by a citizen.
And that arose from a complaint filed by a former member of the commission against Mayor Chris Arbutine last year. The former commission member had challenged Arbutine for the mayor's office in 2009 and was defeated. That was David Shimkus.
Shimkus alleged to the Florida Ethics Commission that Arbutine had misused his position by allowing a local chain grocery store to display signs in violation of the city code, that he directed officials not to enforce the code in this respect, and also that Arbutine had allowed the illegal placing of campaign signs and improper use of the city seal.
Arbutine was completely cleared of all charges in April.
I know both of these men and know them generally to be good people of good character, so anything scribbled here is not in the way of advocacy for either man.
But there is a case for financially protecting elected officials for the reason outlined in paragraph one above.
The problem with the Arbutine-Shimkus clash is that it has become personal.
And the personal aspect continued last week in the Bluffs' commission's deliberations on the subject because taking part in the discussion and properly so was Taylour Shimkus, the wife of David.
I am not sure that Dave Shimkus's filing of the complaints against the man he lost an election to was vexatious. But it certainly strongly suggests that it comes under the "sore loser" category.
And if that is true, it might be a little understandable. Shimkus is a strong and passionate fellow who served in the Marine Corps and is a fighter. The trouble with tough fighters is that sometimes they don't know when the fight is over and stay combative in other areas.
Taylour Shimkus, wife of Dave, was elected in March to the Bluffs commission. Sure, you can say that she is a myrmidon of her husband in her elected office. You can say it, but you shouldn't. One has to assume that she is her own person, not under the influence of any other person, particularly her spouse.
The old dictum, uxor non est sui juris, sed sub potestate viri, no longer applies in any case, women in latter days having been freed of being under the legal power of their husbands.
Nevertheless, there was an uxorious tinge to the proceedings June 21 in the Belleair Bluffs City Hall. Commissioner Shimkus wondered why any policy of reimbursement was necessary to begin with and then gave a couple of irrelevant reasons.
Such a policy is necessary for the predication laid out here that vulnerability is not something that an office holder should have to shoulder alone.
Commissioner Joe Barkley understood that and so did colleague Jack Nazario. They could see the hazard and the whole commission came to that conclusion by the time a vote was taken.
Tom Trask, the city attorney, pointed out that such reimbursement was legal and proper, that such a policy was not uncommon with some other municipalities. The commission would make any final decision, in any event, if the issue ever came up.
Arbutine had to lay out something like $3,600 for legal costs to defend himself against charges he was totally cleared of. That was covered, it turns out, by an insurance policy the city has with the Florida League of Cities.
Arbutine made clear that he wanted his colleagues on the commission and the citizens to know that he was collecting for his legal expenses based on the insurance policy.
That's typical of him - he has shown himself to be an open and honest fellow.
And Dave Shimkus has got to get it in his head that an election held almost 16 months ago has been long decided, the attempt at what some might call vengeance didn't work, giving any appearance of using a wife as a stand-in is not a good idea, and it is time to move on.
In fact, it's time for Chris and Dave to sit down at one of the fine local restaurants, break bread and bury the hatchet.
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