Christgate: With an Eye to Political Gambitry, Kimberle Weeks Demands an Apology
FlaglerLive | February 9, 2012
Memo to Rahm Emanuel: Should you have occasion to visit these here parts and, god forbid, need to interact with the local Supervisor of Elections office–assuming, say, there’s a Florida recount involving your ex-boss in November’s election–you might want to check your salt at the door. Or bring a stack of pre-signed apology letters ready for distribution every time you speak.
Viz.: Alan Peterson, the county commissioner, just got in trouble with Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks for using allegedly foul language–in the supervisor’s exact words and spelling, he used “God’s name in vein”–during a phone conversation with one of Weeks’s staffers.
Weeks demanded an apology, and cc’d her demand to local media.
Peterson had been gathering his petitions for his reelection campaign. He needs 651 signed petitions to avoid paying the roughly $3,000 qualifying fee. It can be frustrating to gather the petitions–not necessarily because people don’t want to fill them out, though there is that, but because voters have a way of becoming a tad illiterate when navigating the forms, which are themselves more than a tad anal in their specificity no matter how diligently some candidates color-code them to make them easier to fill out. Depending on the venue, and judging from several candidates’ recent experiences, supervisors can themselves be quite anal in their certification process. Peterson recently turned in about 600 petition cards to the Supervisor of Elections office, whose staff must certify the validity of the petitions. (Candidates must also pay 10 cents a card for the right of having them examined and certified.)
When Peterson called the supervisor’s office on Wednesday for an update, Kaiti Lenhart, one of the supervisor’s staffers, told him that 10 percent of the petitions were invalid–specifically, 58 petitions.
Like any red-blooded candidate, Peterson didn’t relish the thought of having to go back out to get that many more petitions. “I was talking to myself, because I was frustrated,” he said of his reaction about the 10 percent.
And he let out one of those mildly god-invoking expressions that no red-blooded American with basic cable–or access to a children’s playground or an NFL-inflated living room–hasn’t heard a few times since sunup.
But Peterson in his role as commissioner and ex-banker has also been something of a nightmare for Weeks in the last three years, taking a rake to her budgets and, on more than one occasion, getting frustrated–as fellow-commissioners have–with Weeks’ numbers, and more particularly her combative, accusing defensiveness almost every time she makes an appearance before the commission. Peterson can be irascible, but he’s never been known to use even remotely questionable language in his public conduct.
Whatever Peterson said to Lenhart, or at least loud enough for her to hear–he says he doesn’t remember what it was, but may have been something along the lines of for Christ’s sake or one of its dozen-odd apostolic derivatives–made Weeks angry. Or at least gave her an opportunistic opening for a little pay-back.
At 11:11 a.m. today, Weeks sent the following email to Peterson, and cc’d it to four writers and editors at the News-Journal, to Brian McMillan, the managing editor at the Palm Coast Observer, and to David Ayres, the general manager at WNZF and two other local radio stations (she did not include FlaglerLive in her cc squad):
It is my understanding you contacted the elections office yesterday regarding your submitted petitions and you were very unprofessional when speaking with a female staff member. It has been brought to my attention you used profanity (God’s name in vein [sic.]) when speaking with staff member Kaiti Lenhart. It is asked that you exercise respect and courtesy when dealing with staff in this office, and take this notice that such behavior will not be tolerated or accepted. We are here to serve, but we are not required to take abuse from those as yourself [sic.]. A written letter of apology to staff member Kaiti Lenhart is in order, and would be appreciated.
Later in the day, Peterson drafted the following letter, and had it sent to Weeks by way of Carl Laundrie, the county’s communications director (who ran against Weeks three years ago as an independent), likely a greater misstep than the cause for the letter since political candidates are not supposed to use county staffers to do their work, and this clearly involved a political, not a county government, matter:
When you called and told me that 10 percent of my petitions were invalid, and I questioned some of the reason they were rejected, you apparently felt that I said something inappropriate. If I did, I apologize. It was not meant to be taken personally as you were only relaying information that was given to you. Sincerely, Alan Peterson.
(Laundrie did not cc the response to FlaglerLive, either.)
Peterson stressed this evening that he believed the issue to be “between Katie and I, not the supervisor of elections.” He hoped his response would “conclude the matter,” and said again: “I didn’t mean to say anything that was inappropriate.” By then of course the matter was anything but between Peterson and Lenhart, the county administration having gotten involved, and clued in the rest of the commission to media involvement.
That Weeks was hoping to score political points with her letter to Peterson was made clear by an email Julie Murphy, the News-Journal reporter who covers the county commission, wrote Laundrie this afternoon. “Weeks tried to get me to write a story about the whole commission messing with her. She essentially blocked me into a narrow room and made me listen to her rantings for more than 2 hours,” Murphy wrote. “She had a foot tall stack of ‘evidence’ that was supposed to prove the wrong doing. When I was able to make an escape, I told her I needed copies of all of it so I could look it over v. taking her word that it showed what she said it did. This was after the bonuses discussions.”
Murphy was referring to the last go-around between Weeks and the commission, when Weeks’s claim that she had never awarded bonuses to her employees was proven wrong. Murphy continued: “She never supplied the copies to me and hasn’t responded to any calls I’ve made to her until today for stories about anything. I asked her why she chose to copy the media in that email she sent to Peterson, and whether it had anything to do with the ongoing feud she has seem to have with the commission over the past 3 years. She said no, but it would seem to me that if all she really wanted was an apology, there would be no need to call Peterson out.”
Murphy was merely detailing what most reporters in any media have experienced when dealing with Weeks. Murphy’s own email to Laundrie was prompted after the county administration’s attempts to dissuade her from writing a story.
“We tried to work with the paper to avoid them being used for what appears to be a political attack,” Craig Coffey, the county administrator, wrote the commissioners in late afternoon, “but they feel it is newsworthy and are expected to move forward. The article may go back and pull historic quotes to take a feudal angle.”
By “feudal,” Coffey presumably referred to the Hatfield and McCoy type of feuds, not the medieval type, though either metaphor approximates storylines involving the supervisor of elections.