LARGO -- A possible monkey wrench has been thrown into Largo's municipal election in March.
Mary Black, a candidate for the commission, brought forth the problem at Tuesday night's regular City Commission meeting, leaving those who heard her perplexed.
She made her comments just prior to the drawing for ballot position among the six candidates for two seats. One of those seats is contested, Commissioner Charlie Harper being challenged by Rodney Woods and Andrew Guyette.
The other seat is open with Commissioner Pat Burke's withdrawal from the commission. Black, Gigi Arntzen and Joshua Lindsey will compete for that seat.
Black asserted that the petition cards used by candidates to become qualified for the election are invalid.
She cited Section 7.02(a) of the City Charter, which says in pertinent part --
". . .On each petition form, there shall be an affidavit of the circulator thereof, stating that the petitioner's signature thereon was made in his or her presence and is the genuine signature of the registered voter it purports to be."
What that means is that when a candidate or a representative of a candidate asked a registered voter to sign a petition card, that person then had to certify that the card was signed in his or her presence.
No such certification language or place for signature exists on the petition cards.
Further, the City Charter says in Section 7.02(c) that "Within seven business days after the filing of the nominating petition (at least 200 cards), the city clerk shall notify the candidate in writing whether or not it satisfied the requirements prescribed this charter. If a petition is found to be insufficient, the city clerk shall return it immediately to the candidate with a statement certifiying wherein it is found insufficient."
It would seem that requirements of the City Charter have not been met and that all candidates' petitions are invalid.
Diane Bruner, Largo's city clerk, said the same type of cards have been used for years.
Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, who has taken over the election procedures from Bruner for the remainder of the election season, said he did not know what Black's assertion might mean.
As to why he took over what normally are Bruner's responsibilities, Schubert said, "I cannot say."
Bruce McManus, who is serving as Black's campaign manager, said he is relying on the plain language of the City Charter and said that it presents the process with an enormous problem.
After Black's claim was heard, Mayor Bob Jackson, continuing with the process of drawing for ballot position, asked Schubert, who conducted the drawing, "Were the candidates cards completed correctly?" Schubert said, "Yes."
Schubert added that the cards had been sent on to Deborah Clark, the Supervisor of Elections, who verified the signatures of registered voters. At Jackson's inquiry, Schubert said that all was in order. Jackson said that any legal challenge would have to take place later.
Whether there will be a legal challenge is a question up for grabs. McManus said that the next step would be to have Clark give a ruling on the lack of the supposedly required certification language on the petition cards.
Bruner said that the cards were of the type that had been approved the State Division of Elections. If there is a conflict between state and city law on the question, state law would prevail.
In other significant action Tuesday night, there was a long discussion over changes in the City Charter.
There are changes that voters will decide in a referendum on the March ballot, but these are not extensive enough in the view of George Feaster, a citizen who voiced his disappointment that the commission had not fully addressed charter changes.
Commissioner Pat Gerard took issue with this, saying that, "We have said repeatedly that we are not through with this. There will be lots of input. It seriously affects our city's infrastructure and there should not be hasty action."
After discussion it was agreed that extensive meetings would be held in March following the election to give a thorough review and possible modifications to the charter that has gone basically unchanged for 30 years.
There is a charter referendum in March but it addresses mostly housekeeping items or aspects of the charter that have been overtaken by state law.
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