OLDSMAR — Soon after then-Vice Mayor Linda Norris was arrested on suspicion of DUI following a three-car crash on Aug. 12, her Oldsmar City Council colleagues, including Mayor Eric Seidel, made a public plea for her to resign her Seat 1 position.
Seidel opened the Aug. 18 council meeting by saying, “If what’s being alleged is true, it’s reckless, it’s dangerous (and) it’s unacceptable behavior for any of our citizens, even more so for somebody who’s in elected office.” He went on to state he told Norris he believes she should resign, and the other three council members agreed while pleading for her to step down.
Until recently, Norris, who has served nearly eight years in office spanning three terms since 2010, had remained largely silent on the subject aside from telling Tampa Bay Newspapers on Aug. 26 she was “currently in treatment working diligently on my recovery,” adding she had been advised “to focus on her recovery and to not make any major decisions at this time.”
Since then, Norris has continued to participate in council meetings and workshops via phone while she completed a 45-day stint in a treatment facility. According to deputies, this is the third time Norris has been charged with DUI.
During the Oct. 6 council meeting Seidel revisited the issue, telling Norris that “it’s surprising and disappointing you have not made a decision to apologize publicly for the position that the city was put in because of your arrest.”
Seidel noted the council had received an email from Norris stating said she was “not willing to resign at this time” while asking her colleagues to “respect her decision,” a request the mayor declined.
“I have to tell you publicly that I don’t respect that decision, and I’ve shared with you why,” he said, adding, “I think that the events that occurred did warrant myself and others suggesting it’s best that you resign.”
When asked point-blank if Norris at some point intended to make a more meaningful statement about her decision, she responded by stating she planned to do so at the next council meeting Oct. 20, which she plans to attend in person, adding she has decided to use her platform as an elected official “to become a public advocate for mental health.”
Seidel responded by saying he was looking forward to the statement and getting the issue resolved, “because it’s something that’s hanging out there, and as mayor I feel quite compelled to point that out.”
After the meeting, Norris reiterated her decision not to resign via email while explaining the reasons why.
“We are experiencing a pandemic within a pandemic. One that is largely stigmatized by most,” she wrote. “That of increasing mental health issues, substance abuse, depression, PTSD and suicide just to name a few. It is my intention to use my experiences to offer encouragement and hope to our citizens who are suffering in silence. I am not ashamed of who I am. I am a survivor. The true measure of a person’s character is in the ways we rise from our challenges and our traumas.”
In response to Seidel’s remarks, Norris said, “As for our Mayor not respecting my decision, I am no more the boss of his mind as he is of mine. I will continue to fulfill my duties to the citizens with an added passion of bringing awareness to a silent killer,” before adding, “This is not to say that I do not regret the embarrassment to the City of Oldsmar. For that I am truly sorry. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of folks who have reached out in my support via calls, texts, emails and cards. I will carry your love and compassion in my heart as I advocate for all those who continue to suffer.”
When asked for a comment about Norris’ decision, Seidel said via email, “Council member Norris’ decision to not resign is a mistake. It shows a lack of concern for the city and a lack of respect for the citizens who had elected her.”
After expressing concern about Norris continuing to hold office following her impending trial, Seidel stated, “Can you imagine if she is convicted and sentenced to jail at her court date in November? Linda not resigning means this could occur while serving as an elected official of the city of Oldsmar,” and he went on to say he believed Norris “should not continue to place the city in an embarrassing position or leave us in this continued position of harming the city’s reputation. It’s selfish.”
According to the city’s charter, a council member forfeits his or her post if “convicted of a felony or a crime involving conduct contrary to justice, honesty or good morals.”
It adds that, “the council shall be the judge of the grounds for forfeiture of their office. A council member charged with conduct constituting grounds for forfeiture of his/her office shall be entitled to a public hearing on demand.”
According to the email Norris sent to the council on Sept. 30, she stated, “If events unfold that warrant my resignation, I will do so.”
When asked if that meant she would resign should she be convicted, Norris said yes. “I made it clear in my email to the council on Sept. 30 that I would resign if events warranted, so therefore the mayor’s concerns are unfounded,” she stated.