LARGO - Those who watch Largo politics closely are perhaps having strong feelings of deja vu.
They may be recalling the last time the controversy over residence and voting came up. Except last time, as those who know recall, it was residence and running for office.
With the current brouhaha dredged up by Pinellas County's only daily newspaper making a buzz among citizens, no signs of activity have been seen thus far from the offices of law enforcement authorities.
The Big Paper came up with the story that Fred Thomas, influential Largo businessman, registered to vote in Largo in the most recent election, but questioned just where his residence is, or was the day he voted.
Thirteen years ago the same paper was reporting that Thom Feaster, a candidate for mayor, was fudging on where he lived. And the paper's reports indicated it was not in Largo where Feaster was seeking office.
Feaster had been the mayor, in 1979, and he would be the mayor again. But the question early in 1993 was whether he was qualified to run in that election.
The BP reported, through the pen of Amelia Davis, that "If home is where the heart is, mayoral candidate Thomas "Thom" Feaster lives at 214 First Ave. SW in Largo which was the address of a business he had an interest in. "But if home is where your wife and children are," the story read, "then Feaster lives at 12232 104th Ave. N in an unincorporated part of the county between Largo and Seminole."
The story went on to relate that when Feaster was elected mayor in 1979 his "one and only home" was inside the city limits.
In, 1993, the paper reported, both his driver's license and his voter's registration card list the Largo address as his residence while his wife, Kathy, filed for a homestead exemption the past two years on the house the couple owns at 12232 104th Ave. N.
This came to a head when Commissioner Jim Pitts, a candidate for mayor, filed suit in Circuit Court at mid-February challengingFeaster's qualifications for office.
The suit was filed against Henry Schubert, then Largo's city clerk and now an assistant city manager.
Feaster said he consulted with the city's lawyer, Gerald McClelland, about his residence before filing to run for mayor and said that McClelland had advised him that if a person is a qualified voter in Largo, "the city would not look further."
Whether that is good legal advice or not, it is eerily like the kind of pronouncements that come from the current holder of that office.
McClelland at that time even supplemented his opining with the comment, as reported by the BP, that although Largo's City Charter "indicates that a person should continue to reside in the city for one year prior to qualifying, a judge in a Sarasota case has ruled that a durational requirement is unconstitutional."
In spite of that, Bob Jackson, then commissioner and later mayor, tried to get the commission to define and make law the residency question but it went nowhere.
His colleagues did not want to do anything, acting then, as they do now, to keep Largo in legal limbo when it comes to such things as residency, nepotism, conflicts of interest and cronyism.
In another aspect that shows time changes events very little, Deborah Clarke, then working in the elections office as deputy administrator, was quoted as saying, "residency is one of those gray areas. In past cases, the courts have not been real clear. In some cases, they have accepted wherever the person says he lives as his address."
Clarke is now Supervisor of Elections and has had one big problem after another, the latest being an audit of the Largo March voting that reveals some very funny and odd happenings.
Pitts's case was dismissed back in 1993 by the court on the grounds that the named defendant should be Feaster, not Schubert. Pitts later amended his complaint, but the whole thing eventually fizzled with Feaster elected for a one-year term to fill out the term of George McGough, who quit.
Feaster went on to be re-elected in 1997 and then stepped down before the 2000 election when the heat was on for activities that were bringing Feaster under fire. Jackson ran that year and was elected mayor.
Even later, Feaster came up with a deadly disease which claimed his life.
So, in Largo, the old French saw, "Plus ca change, plus le meme chose," still holds and is going strong, it seems.
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