LARGO -- More violations have apparently occurred in Largo's election laws and one local activist has called for cancellation of the election scheduled next Tuesday.
Mary Gray Black, a candidate for seat 1 on the commission which is being vacated by Pat Burke, evidently has read city laws relating to elections closely.
It was Black who revealed early in January that candidates had not properly submitted petition cards and that such cards were invalid.
That charge went nowhere when Alan Zimmet, the part time Largo city attorney who is paid $103,000 a year, acted as final judge on the matter and brushed the alleged violations aside with a hair splitting lawyer's argument.
He opined that the law said that an affidavit must be made certifying the signature of a citizen signing the card. He said that such affadavits had to be made before a notary public which would lead, by his logic, to the ludicrous situation of candidates seeking signatures having a notary accompany them.
No appeal was taken from Zimmet's questionable ruling.
A similar response was made to the latest illegal gaffe in the election process, also brought to public attention by Black.
Section 9.02(a)(4) of the city charter says that "No person who holds any compensated city position or office shall make, solicit, or receive any contribution to the political campaigns, parties or candidates pertaining to the city elections or take part in the management, affairs or political campaigns of said elections unless such activities are for said person's own campaign, but he or she may exercise his or her rights as a citizen to express his or her opinions and cast his or her vote."
Records show that Burke and Commissioners Harriet Crozier, Gay Gentry and Pat Gerard have made contributions to three candidates, one of whom has dropped out. They are Gigi Arntzen and Rodney Woods; Charlie Harper withdrew from seeking re-election.
Bruce McManus, a Largo lawyer who is Black's campaign manager, pointed this out in a letter February 16 to Mayor Bob Jackson.
The response to that came from Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager who was put in charge of the election process in a questionable procedure.
Schubert replaced Diane Bruner, the city clerk, who is empowered by law to conduct the election. There still has been no explanation by the Largo administration for this possibly unlawful act. Instead, the administration hid behind the supposed provisions of law that clamped silence on a supposed incident that never formally charged anyone or specified any wrongdoing.
Schubert's response was to advise candidates who had received unlawful contributions to return such contributions. Like Zimmet with the petition cards, Schubert acted as the final authority in what is described in the city charter as a misdemeanor.
Section 9.02(b) describes penalties for the violation of illegal contributions. "Any person who by himself or herself or with others wilfully violates any of the provisions . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punishable by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500) or by imprisonment for not more than sixty (60) days or both. Any person convicted under this section shall be ineligible for a period of five (5) years thereafter to hold any city office or position and, if an officer of employee of the city, shall immediately forfeit his or her office or position."
Instead of reporting the violation to proper law enforcement authorities, like the State Attorney, for instance, Schubert merely brushed it off with advice to return illegal contributions, which constitutes, in one expert's view, a violation of the law in and of itself.
Ernie Bach, spokesman for the Largo Civic Association, has called for an investigation and cancellation of the election.
That has received support in some quarters with a review of the peculiarties that have occurred in this election cycle.
Bach cites the Black allegation of illegally submitted petition cards, the removal of the city clerk as election supervisor, the questionable substitution of an assistant city manager as election supervisor with no proper explanation, and the latest gaffe, the illegal contributions.
No matter what happens, the commission emerging after next Tuesday's election will be under a cloud with a further erosion in public confidence in the administration of the city of Largo.
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