Eustis FL —
The city’s tab for hiring a Jacksonville law firm to investigate whether City Commissioner Anthony Sabatini met the residency requirement when he ran for office last year reached nearly $20,000.
That was the price of the firm’s 57 hours of work and seven-page legal opinion on whether Sabatini was eligible to run. Candidates are required to be city residents for two years before they can seek office, according to the city charter.
At issue was whether Sabatini met that stipulation. His drivers license has a Gainesville address and he voted in Gainesville while he attended law school there last year. He also listed a Mount Dora address when he applied to be on that city’s library advisory board. He later said that address belonged to one of his parent’s commercial businesses.
But he also attended Eustis Elementary, Eustis Middle and Eustis High schools, and supporters said he is Eustis through and through. More than 100 people showed up to a public meeting earlier this month during which commissioners debated the issue. Many lambasted the city for wasting taxpayers’ dollars by pursuing the issue.
Sabatini’s fellow commissioners, however, said they were elected to uphold the city charter. Sabatini called the inquiry a “political witch hunt” and a waste of money.
After three hours of often-fiery public comment Aug. 3, commissioners voted to drop the matter. The 28-year-old commissioner had already been vindicated by the time the legal tab from the Tanner Bishop law firm arrived Aug. 8.
“I was just blown away,” Sabatini said of the firm’s price tag. “This is a lesson for all the cities — don’t spend money unless you have to.”
He criticized the legal report for not giving a yes-or-no answer on his residency, instead advising city officials to come to their own conclusion.
“It was $20,000… and it was literally just boilerplate,” he said.
Commissioner Marie Aliberti, who questioned Sabatini’s residency in July, said she had no regrets about voting to hire the law firm.
“At least for it to to say ‘yes, there’s inconsistencies,’ which there were,” she said.
“I think it speaks to the fact there were inconsistencies and all we wanted were answers,” Aliberti said.