A South Florida elected official’s family situation raises the question: Should a sitting city commissioner still represent an area in which she no longer lives?
Earlier this year, Hollywood City Commissioner Linda Sherwood, who first took office in 2008, announced she would step down early from her current term ending in 2024 to care for a daughter in Georgia who suffers from a rare blood disease.
Since then, she has continued to serve, almost entirely remotely. But her March 16 vote in favor of a controversial 30-story condominium at 1301 South Ocean Drive – prime beachfront property – spurred opponents of the project to question her residency requirements to serve.
Cat Uden, a local activist, has strongly opposed the condo tower that the commission OK’d on a 5-2 vote. (Hollywood’s city commission is made up of seven members, including Mayor Josh Levy.) She says Sherwood should not have been able to vote on the project. “I think our commissioners should live in Hollywood and Sherwood lives in Georgia,” she told City & State.
City Commissioner Kevin Biederman disagrees, countering that even though Sherwood “has not attended many meetings in person, she meets the residency (requirement) and so she has continued to serve on the commission.” She couldn't be reached for comment last week.
Here’s what happened: Sherwood had sold two units in a building on Washington Street; one had been her legal address. She now lists her local address as another unit in that building, which is owned by her son, who bought the apartment more than a year ago. But Sherwood also bought a house near Macon, Georgia this January with her daughter Melinda, who is receiving treatment.
Hollywood City Attorney Doug Gonzalez told City Manager Wazir Ishmael met the eligibility requirement for her March vote based on “the totality of the circumstances,” according to an email provided to City & State. Gonzalez opined that Sherwood remains a resident until she provides notice otherwise.
City charter says commission 'shall be judge of ... qualification of its own members'
He also said her need to be with an ill daughter and provide support does not defeat her residency, nor does the fact that she bought a home in Georgia. Finally, Gonzalez referred to the Hollywood City Charter, which says commissioners “shall remain domiciled in (their) district throughout (their) term of office,” but also that “the commission shall be the judge of the elections and qualification of its own members.”
Records show Sherwood resigned effective November from her District 6 seat so the city would not have to hold a separate special election before Florida’s general election on Nov. 8. Supporters say she still visits Hollywood regularly and attended the Aug. 31 meeting in person. But she mainly does her business as a commissioner through email and otherwise online, usually attending commission meetings virtually.
And privately and publicly, no one in Hollywood city government – elected and staff – has been opposed to Sherwood remaining on the commission. They say she’s advised and is mentoring Idelma Quintana, who will take her place on the commission after the November election. Quintana was the only candidate who qualified to run.
City Commissioner Traci Callari says she believes that as long as a commissioner does one’s work and attends meetings – even if by video – that person should remain in office.
“She is very involved and does a lot of work for the city,” Callari says. “Sherwood is doing everything a commissioner should do. … She does not have a physical presence all the time. She does not go to ribbon cuttings. I work as a nurse, and I can’t always attend city festivals and business openings, which are nice events.”
David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers local government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.