LARGO – The Largo City Commission Tuesday night put the final touches on the prosaic rules on what promises to be a hotly contested city election in March.
The discussion on the rules and procedures are so fraught with complication that commission members Tuesday night wound up going in circles, like maddened dogs, trying to figure out how to keep their own interests covered and the laws satisfied.
Besides setting the qualifying dates as well as other details, the commission outlined procedures the staff will take in the city election.
For example, if it is reported to city hall that a candidates has allegedly violated the state election code, the staff will advise the complaining person to the city has no jurisdiction over state election laws and refer the person to the Florida Elections Commission.
There was a hullabaloo last March over election violations, including actions by elected officials, none of which were followed up as the law was deftly skirted.
What happened earlier this year is what led to Largo gaining the reputation of the city that does not follow the rule of law. The city is plagued with cronyism, nepotism and other corruption routinely.
In another example of staff procedure during the election season, if it is reported that a candidate has violated a provision of the Charter, the staff will advise the complainant to take the matter to the State Attorney’s Office.
Preparatory to the election, the staff will put out a “Candidate Guide” that will list “do’s and don’t’s,” a schedule of due dates for treasurer’s reports and other forms.
The election is set for March 7, with the candidate qualifying period beginning on November 30 and ending at 5 p.m. December 29.
If there were a way to further complicate the rules for the election, the commission Tuesday night ran down every possibility to do so and, of course, wound up making mystery out of the simple.
The election system in Largo has been made so complicated that training sessions on how to run for office are now deemed to be necessary. Of course, this has the desired effect (from incumbents’ view) of discouraging any challengers.
The discussion of the city election laws and procedures with all the ramifications, complications, spifflications would have done Charles Dickens proud and could stand as a rival to the complexities found in The Pickwick Papers.
It is clear now that the city is all balled up in its own legal language despite the supposed expertise of its part time lawyer, Alan Zimmet, who is paid more than $2,000 a week.
In the meantime, the state Ethics Commission is pursuing a complaint against Commissioner Pat Gerard, a candidate for mayor in March, for her conflict of interest in recent city business.
She works for an entity that was seeking to use space in the old library building. Gerard virtually represented her employer in the matter, in an action that has flabbergasted and outraged many citizens.
As the matter is being pursued in Tallahassee, one officials source has said that Gerard’s actions in promoting the interest of her employer, Youth Services, Inc., with the city of Largo while sitting as an elected official constitutes “one of the most obvious breaches” ever seen.
He said the case cited by Zimmet, Largo’s lawyer, that justified his giving a green light to Gerard to participate in discussion and vote on the issue was “not relevant, a totally different situation.”
Furthermore, the handbook issued by the Florida Ethics Commission, by which Gerard’s conflict of interest is currently under investigation, specifically says that an elected official cannot be involved in a situation where his or her employer is engaged in any dealing with the government of which the elected official is a part.
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