The Ocala City Council made its feelings known loud and clear on Friday morning – convicted felon Tyrone Oliver will not fill the District 2 Council seat.
President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle said it was quite clear under Florida law that Oliver, who was convicted of a drug-related offense more than 30 years ago, wasn’t eligible to serve as a councilmember. Grabelle also made the motion that passed 4-1 to refuse to seat Oliver, who is the co-founder of Ocala-based Deliverance Outreach Ministries and has yet to have his civil rights restored by the Clemency Board in Tallahassee.
Councilman Brent Malever cast the lone “no” vote and pointed out to his fellow councilmen that Oliver has cleaned his life up over the past 33 years.
“He’s done everything he can do to get this thing straightened out,” Malever said. “We’ve got to go by the law like it’s supposed to be, but we also can give and take a little bit.”
Oliver told the City Council members that he wasn’t asking for any “special favors” and then made an impassioned plea to be seated.
“The same people that voted for me, voted for you all,” he said.
Oliver said his checkered past was brought up multiple times during the special runoff election against Ire Bethea Sr. – and he addressed it head-on every time.
“I hid nothing,” he said. “I made it well known and they still voted me in.”
Oliver said he’s been treated like he “tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes” even though he was an “open book” throughout the election process.
“I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done in the past,” he said. “I happened to be at the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time. That’s my crime. Have I learned something from that? Yes. It’s been 30 years and I haven’t gotten so much as a speeding ticket.”
Oliver also reiterated to the councilmembers that he’s been working for many years to get the Clemency Board to restore his civil rights.
“I can’t make them work any faster or do anything,” he said. “You know about how it is in Tallahassee.”
Like Grabelle, neither Council President Jay Musleh nor Councilman Matthew Wardell were swayed by Oliver’s statements.
“We have elections that have rules. Oaths and affidavits are signed, qualifying him at a certain point in time,” Musleh said. “Technically, when Mr. Oliver signed that form, he did not qualify.”
Musleh said he’s appreciates that Oliver has rehabilitated himself over the last 33 years but that didn’t change the facts.
“The letter of the law is you’ve got to qualify by a certain point in time – and he’s not qualified,” Musleh said.
Wardell agreed, adding that given all the legal advice councilmembers had received, it would be “dangerous” to seat Oliver.
“We have a duty to uphold our oath to the Constitution, which I take very seriously,” he said.
Following the vote, Mayor Kent Guinn signed a proclamation calling for a special election to fill the open District 2 seat, which was held by Mary Sue Rich for 24 years until she decided not to see re-election. The qualifying dates for candidates to file will be from noon Jan. 6 to noon Jan. 10, with the election being held on Tuesday, March 17. Bethea indicated after the meeting that he’s most likely going to run again. And at the Council’s Dec. 3 meeting, Rich mentioned the possibility more than once of putting her hat back in the ring.
City Council members originally thought they had handled this situation at the Dec. 3 meeting but they found out this past Tuesday night that the issue was far from over. That’s when Assistant City Attorney Jimmy Gooding recommended Friday’s special meeting because some “procedural concerns” had been raised over the way the Council initially refused to seat Oliver.
Guinn had already signed the proclamation calling for a special election to fill the vacant seat but Gooding said the Council, in essence, needed to do a re-boot.
Gooding said Oliver’s attorney had raised concerns because Rich had participated in the vote even though her term was ending. He said a question also was raised about Wardell casting a vote because even though he had been re-elected, he hadn’t yet officially been sworn in for his next term.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Grabelle said he didn’t agree with the need to wait until Friday to clear the issue. He said councilmembers already had the information they needed to make a decision. But he agreed to go along with the rest of the Council on holding a special meeting after Gooding said such a move would reduce the possibility of the city facing a challenge and possibly ending up in court over the issue.