Lauren Ritchie: Talk about nerve: Howey official Mat McGill demands $1M from town, facing recall

Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel
·5 min read

Mat McGill, who was elected a year ago to the Howey-in-the-Hills Town Council, wants residents to give him $1 million.

Two of his buddies also want $1 million each, and their lawyer has threatened the tiny town of about 1,600 residents with a big ol’ hairy federal lawsuit if they all don’t get it.

Welcome to the world of perfectly legal extortion.

By law, those who want to sue a municipality claiming some kind of negligence have to give six months’ notice, which McGill and friends did on Nov. 27.

If Howey paid the demand, the cost would be the equivalent of every property owner in town paying more than three years’ worth of taxes to make these whiners go away. Except that they wouldn’t have to go away. McGill’s term as a councilor isn’t up until 2022, so poor Howey is stuck with this guy until at least then.

Or, maybe not.

Residents weary of McGill’s unceasing insistence that some of Howey’s dozen or so employees should be disciplined for treating him and his friends badly or for violating minor rules have started the process to recall him. They hope to have his recall on the March ballot.

When contacted to talk about the letter and the proposed lawsuit, McGill emailed back: “What are you talking about with regards to a demand letter?”

Provided the demand letter, he responded that he had no comment.

Hahaha. And there, folks, you have a perfect example of why at least a chunk of Howey voters are fed up with this elected official. After all, how many times in, say, a year, does McGill send letters giving a municipality an ultimatum if it fails to write him a $1 million check?

McGill’s draft lawsuit claims the town violated his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the first two guaranteeing free speech and privacy and the last preventing the government from depriving a person of life, liberty or property without due process under the law.

This would be hilarious if it weren’t going to be expensive for the town, in one way or another, before this comes to an end.

The draft of the suit alleges that Howey didn’t properly investigate misdeeds by its employees, failed to discipline them and allowed them to selectively enforce the city codes.

One example, the suit cited, was that McGill had an RV that was not fenced in his yard. That’s against code, so he was cited. The suit whines, “other homeowners in Howey who also had RVs, trailers, boats and other such parked on their property did not receive complaints.”

Wah, wah, wah. Oh my gosh! The nerve of that town! Someone complained, so the code guy responded. That’s got to stop!

The list of offenses against McGill goes on and on in that vein. The suit states that Mayor Martha MacFarlane wouldn’t let McGill speak often enough or long enough. Other people made fun of him. More people filed mean ethics violation complaints about him.

Apparently, the poor dear snowflake expects the federal court to deal with this babble with a straight face.

The councilor should examine his own behavior. He claimed over and over that Police Chief Rick Thomas committed crimes and complained at least three times to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Agents wrote three reports declining even to open an investigation.

McGill insisted that FDLE in September had finally begun investigating Thomas over a violation of state law involving campaigning, but the agency’s chief communications officer said that wasn’t so — the agency had precisely zero open investigations involving the chief, who had been on the Howey force for 24 years without a single complaint.

This should have been McGill’s first clue that no one cares about his petty nonsense.

But, no. He’s got two buddies who also think they’re entitled to $1 million each, too, in exchange for having endured supposed violations of rights from the town of Howey.

The draft suit on Bernard Alimenti’s behalf claims that he and his wife suffered “continued homelessness” because of how the city treated him and the second for Don Ellis states he underwent “a flare up of his heart condition, which was stress related.”

Alimenti referred questions to his attorney, who didn’t immediately return a message for comment. Ellis couldn’t be reached.

Folks, when you make a bid for the Petty Political Hall of Fame, you had better have skin of steel. Same goes for those who are elected officials and for those who live in the public eye.

McGill’s claims, in particular, are the pitiful muling of a tired child, and it’s little wonder that his fellow citizens want a second chance at voting on him.

A committee headed by David Miles, retired Army lieutenant colonel and former financial director for the government that runs The Villages retirement community, got about 170 signatures in three days to recall McGill.

The Lake County Supervisor of Elections office certified that at least the required 110 were valid. The town must serve a certified notice to the councilor, and he’ll have the opportunity to provide a defense of 200 words or less.

Then, the recall committee has 60 days to get about 165 signatures — that’s 15% of registered voters — and provided those signatures are valid, the proposed recall will go to a judge to set a date for an election.

Miles said his group will work quickly so that the recall can be on the March ballot and no special election costing about $8,000 will have to be arranged.

“I believe he’s trying to bankrupt the town,” Miles said of McGill. “All he needs now is a gun to stick in our ribs.”

LRitchie@orlandosentinel.com

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