Analysis - Questions Raised On Largo Election Procedures
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The overriding question, it would seem, in the flap over excluding Bob Jackson from the November ballot in the race for mayor is cui bono?
Yes, who benefits?
Another question of key importance - why has the city taken such an adversarial position?
Instead of reaching an equitable and fair solution to a bad situation, which is enhanced by the wrong doing and unlawful acts and omissions on the part of two city employees, a black and white position was taken by the city.
"Document requiring signature not signed....candidate off the ballot."
That's tantamount to something out of Alice in Wonderland - "Sentence now, trial later."
And yet another question - Largo officials, candidates and perhaps the general public labor under the misunderstanding that the stated deadline for a candidate to file papers is also the deadline for qualifying.
This is wrong and the city's election code makes clear in exact and clear terms what the process is.
So Largo needs to contend with the macro and the micro - the specific right now injustice delivered to Bob Jackson and the overall understanding of the nominating and election procedure.
But first, a look at the question first raised - who benefits?
One theory advanced by those who follow such matters closely is that Jackson just might have succeeded in his attempt to re-capture his seat as mayor and that, coupled with the likely victory of Curtis Holmes in the contest for commission seat number 3, might balance the commission in such a way as to put some key people in jeopardy, namely the city manager and the city attorney.
There is dissatisfaction with the city manager, Mac Craig, who was appointed to the job two years ago despite a lack of experience. The move was made on the basis of friendship.
Many - unfortunately in power - have called for ending the current arrangement of a part time city attorney, who steers all extra business to his own firm, and switching to a full time lawyer stationed in City Hall.
Keeping Jackson out of the race reduced by half the possibility of an opposition voice. Most members of the commission don't want the boat rocked. Most of them need the $20,000 or so a year in compensation.
That answers, in great part, the current cui bono question.
The larger question of the process in determining candidates needs a strong examination.
Under the city's election code, a deadline is determined when candidates must file all "separate papers and forms comprising the nominating petition" and this is defined as "one instrument."
However, once the papers are filed that is just one step in the process. Filing papers by the stated deadline does not qualify the candidate.
7.02(c) of the code, "Procedure after filing" explicitly sets forth when and how a candidate is actually qualified and obviously, by law, there is no qualification until the law is complied with.
One can successfully contend, many legal authorities say, that as a matter of equity a person cannot be denied a position as a candidate due to the failure of a ministerial duty, ordained by law, by a functionary.
In other words, the argument would be, Jackson should not have been barred from the ballot due to the City Clerk failing to carry out a provision of the law. How could it possibly be his fault in any logical or reasonable way?
"Procedure after filing" says this -
"Within seven (7) business days after the filing of the nominating petitions with the city clerk or his/her designee, the city clerk or his/her designee shall notify the candidate in writing whether or not the petitions satisfied the requirements prescribed by this charter. For any petition found to be insufficient, the city clerk or his/her designee shall notify the candidate of any petitions found to be insufficient."Those words, with emphasis added, are the key to the Jackson case, now abandoned by the candidate himself.
As is known and admitted, Jackson filled out papers in the helter-skelter of the City Hall lobby while a notary public, a city employee who was working during all this as a receptionist, answering phone calls, greeting people, responding to questions, notarized - in explicit violation of the law - a document that had not been signed.
Chapter 99.061 of Florida Statutes underlines the clerk's responsibility once having received a candidate's papers -
"The filing offer (City Clerk) shall make a reasonable effort to notify the candidate of the missing or incomplete items. . ."That law is part of the Largo election code by operation of Largo code 7.01(c).
Largo's City Clerk did not even check the papers, in violation of her duty.
Because the law says that the City Clerk shall notify the candidate in writing with seven business days after the candidate's filing whether or not the filing papers satisfied the requirements of the law, Jackson could not be legally qualified until at least August 19. He filed on August 10 and seven business days takes one to August 19.
Instead, on that day, he was notified that he was off the ballot - almost totally because of the errors of the City Clerk.
It appears that Largo officials seized what they might have seen as an opportunity and took a black and white approach to the situation and ruled Jackson off the ballot instead of trying to cure a mistake by the City Clerk.
Had the City Clerk done her job, this kind of scenario could have unfolded -
Jackson fills out papers and gives them to Diane Bruner, the City Clerk. She takes them to her office and carefully reviews them as the law orders her to do. She notes his missing signature on a document that has been notarized. Bruner immediately gets hold of Jackson and asks him to get back to City Hall pronto. Jackson does. He signs the paper. Bruner has done her job and one can forgive the notary for her blunder which then becomes moot.That didn't happen, and it didn't happen because "funny" things happen in Largo.
Now that notary's blunder could put $7,500 in Jackson's pocket because the statute provides for that.
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