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Questions arise over Manatee school board seat vacancy

A former school board member has filed a lawsuit against the Manatee County supervisor of elections over the soon-to-be vacant school board seat.

Lakewood Ranch's Richard Tatem was elected to the School Board of Manatee County in August 2022.
Lakewood Ranch's Richard Tatem was elected to the School Board of Manatee County in August 2022.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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Come Nov. 5, the District 5 seat on the School Board of Manatee County will be vacant as Richard Tatem, the current representative, will have resigned to see the outcome of his run for the House of Representatives. 

But how will the school board seat be filled?

With two years remaining on his school board term, Tatem filed his resignation from the school board on May 30 to run for the Florida House District 72 seat left vacant by Rep. Tommy Gregory, who has accepted the position as the president of the State College of Florida.

According to the state constitution, a seat left vacant with 28 months or more left in the term will be filled during the next general election. If the remainder of the term is less than 28 months, then the governor’s office would appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

The point of contention that has people questioning the fate of how the seat will be filled is whether the time left in Tatem’s term should be counted from the date he filed his resignation, which was May 30, or from the effective date of his resignation, which is Nov. 5. 

Tatem said when he filed his resign-to-run letter, he “did not have a definitive answer” as to whether his seat would be filled by an election or by appointment. 

“For those who say I should have resigned immediately, there are others who say we elected you, please stay and represent us as long as you can,” Tatem said. “I turned in the letter according to the laws of the state of Florida, and I selected my resignation date also in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida. Once the supervisor of elections office received my letter, they did their due diligence and made a decision they believe to be in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida.”

James Satcher, the recently appointed supervisor of elections for Manatee County, issued a statement indicating the District 5 seat will be filled by an appointment in accordance to Florida’s resign to run law. 

Satcher said the resign to run law was amended in 2021 to clarify that an office is deemed vacant on the effective date of the incumbent’s resignation and not the date the incumbent tendered the resignation. 

James Golden, a former school board member who lost his re-election to the District 5 seat to Tatem, filed a lawsuit against the Supervisor of Elections in 12th Judicial Circuit Court after Golden attempted to qualify to run for the school board seat on June 10 and was turned away. 

James Golden
Courtesy image

On June 12, Golden mailed in the qualifying paperwork and receipt of the deposit for the qualifying fee to the supervisor’s office. 

Golden said the statute regarding the filling of a vacancy and the resign to run law are “never conflated,” and an officer’s decision to resign should not interfere with a resident’s ability to qualify for a seat. He said the resign to run law is effective and applicable to the person who has resigned, which is not him. 

“The supervisor of elections, in this case, has wrongfully utilized the resign to run statute as a basis for determining whether I can qualify to fill the vacancy,” Golden said. “He doesn’t have any discretion in this. He must abide by the law. This is just more evidence of why he’s not competent to be a supervisor of elections. He doesn’t understand the law.”

Golden said he didn’t want to run for the school board again. He wanted to qualify for the seat to make a point.

“I don’t want the elections process to be corrupted by anybody for any reason, and I certainly don’t want it to be corrupted ignorantly,” he said. “This is about protecting the integrity of the process. You can’t just bend the law to suit your will. You can’t move in and outside of the law to suit your purposes. Whether I never get elected again, I stand for that.”

If the circuit court judge requires the seat be added to the ballot, and if elected, Golden said he will serve out the remainder of Tatem’s term.

Local organizations, including the League of Women Voters of Manatee County and Manatee Democratic Party, have spoken out against the decision to have Gov. Ron DeSantis appoint someone to represent District 5 rather than putting the seat on the ballot in the general election. The organizations believe the determination of appointment or election should be dependent on the date the resignation was filed, not the date the resignation is effective. 

The Manatee County Democratic Party said in a statement that not having an election to fill the seat is the “disenfranchisement of voters.”

“The decision of the (supervisor of elections) demonstrates a complete lack of competence,” the organization said in the statement. “There are serious concerns that the SOE is acting unethically, and potentially unlawfully, by not allowing the required special election.”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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