County and School Boards Ridicule Emergency Meeting Forced by Elections Supervisor Weeks
FlaglerLive | June 8, 2012
Last Updated: 6:35 p.m.
The Flagler County Commission, pressured by Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks, held an emergency session at 11 today to re-ratify the ballot language of a referendum asking voters in August to approve the renewal of a half-cent sales tax supplement for school spending.
Weeks, in what county officials see as an unnecessary maneuver, demanded that the commission hold the emergency meeting to again ratify the wording of the amendment because it had been edited to remove such words as “and” and “or” to shorten from 89 words to 75 words. Commissioners and school officials were not pleased. They complied in order not to jeopardize the school board’s referendum in any way.
Barbara Revels, who chairs the commission, termed the maneuver “ridiculous” before holding her tongue, though she clearly wanted to say more. Colleen Conklin, a school board member, did.
“This is such nonsense,” Conklin said. “Last year or the year before, when we put the .25 on the referendum,” she said, referring to the small property-tax levy voters renewed for the school board, “we approved it in July. We were well beyond the qualifying date for candidates. So a precedent has already been set. I have never heard of this deadline of the qualifying period for candidates coinciding with the referendum and ballot language deadline. At all. I had said to Barbara before. What’s going on, why are we even here? Are we simply the fire hydrant between two dogs?”
Weeks, in an interview late Friday afternoon, said she did not force a meeting on anyone. “I didn’t call this meeting, I didn’t force this meeting, I just made them aware that it could possibly be challenged,” Weeks said, insisting that the problem could have been resolved ahead of time if the school board had adopted its resolution earlier. Absent a vote by both county and school boards, Weeks said, “they may be risking somebody challenging this referendum.”
Weeks said the county attorney could have himself prevented the matter from going down to the wire by noting the excessive length of the referendum language when it came across his desk from the school board. Al Hadeed, the county attorney, rejected that claim, saying the ballot language was originally under 60 words anyway: the supervisor was including the title language, which, according to Hadeed, is not material to the substance of the ballot language. The more pertinent point, Hadeed said, is the supervisor of election’s “arbitrary” deadline which she, not law, had set, including Weeks’s claim that the ballots are going to the printer next Tuesday.
But by publicizing the issue, including Weeks’s raising the issue of a legal challenge in her email to the school board attorney, the supervisor of elections was feeding a poison pill to both boards, and forcing a meeting. “The only way to make sure that this went forward on the ballot for the electorate on the primary was to comply with her deadline, to assure that outcome,” Hadeed said. “There was no choice. There was no real choice.”Hadeed and Craig Coffey, the county attorney, had originally planned to have the county commission re-ratify the amended language on June 18, at a regular meeting of the commission. (See below Coffey’s memo, the ballot language and the full email from Weeks to Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney, sent at 4:36 p.m. Thursday, and copied to Hadeed, the county administrator and the school superintendent.)
The school board’s portion of the half-cent sales tax referendum has nothing to do with a similar referendum the county and cities are working on. That half-cent sales tax has also been on the books for the past 10 years, and is expiring at the end of the year. The county and the cities have not yet agreed on the renewal terms. The county wants to increase its share of the revenue. It’s too late, according to the supervisor of elections, for that referendum to make it onto the Aug. 14 primary ballot. But this latest incident between the county and the supervisor–the latest in a long series, dating back almost four years, to the beginning of Weeks’s tenure–has county officials worried about the referendum making it even onto the November ballot.
“It’s going to be a difficult task,” Revels said after the meeting. “It would require collegial cooperation among agencies that we would hope would occur, should we come to an agreement with the cities and the county on the dispensation of the half-cent sales tax.” That’s an obstacle that hadn’t been foreseen until today because commissioners, Revels said, “had taken it for granted that we could file it later.” That’s not now necessarily the case.
The school tax referendum is put forward by the Flagler County School Board. But the county commission must ratify all county-related referendums that appear on Flagler County election ballots. The school board approved the wording previously, as did the county commission on Monday. The wording, in fact, has barely changed. There were “technical revisions” by the school board that don’t change the intent of the referendum to reduce the length of the ballot language.Just before 4 p.m. Wednesday–according to School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin–Weeks informed the school district that its wording, to be ready for the ballot, must again be approved by the county commission. And to be approved by noon today, to comply with the deadline that applies to candidates qualifying for the Aug. 14 primary and the general election in November.
So the county scrambled to comply even though, according to Hadeed, that noon deadline has no bearing on county or school board referendums.
“Would not the ability to ratify the changed language at our next regularly scheduled meeting been appropriate and OK?” County Commission Chairman Barbara Revels asked Hadeed.
“There is no statute, nor agency rule, including from the division of elections of the state of Florida, nor any case, or even an attorney general opinion,” Hadeed said, “that prescribes the deadline for a referendum item, local, I’m talking about local, that goes to the supervisor of elections, that sets the deadline for the end of the qualifying period for candidates.”
Normally, Hadeed said, the issue would have been “collegially” addressed, without the need for an extraordinary meeting, “hopefully with the cooperation of the supervisor of elections.” There was no such cooperation. “It became impractical for us to act other than to do it in an emergency meeting,” Hadeed said.
Hadeed stressed that “the statute that govern qualifying do not even mention the word referendum. That’s handled totally separately. So if there is no legal deadline in words, in words, then what is the deadline? The deadline is when the supervisor of elections has to have the language finalized to send it to the printer,” so the ballot is ready when absentee ballots have to be sent out. That, Hadeed said, “is an administratiove function.”
The commission voted unanimously to approve the new language at 11:34 a.m.
“I don’t think you’re being fair to the public by bringing this meeting so suddenly,” Jack Carrell, the only member of the public in the room, told the commission, also blaming the school board for holding an emergency meeting. But he had missed the point: neither the school board nor the county commission thought the meeting necessary. Only the supervisor of elections–who was not at the meeting–did. (Aside from the commissioners, and Conklin, and two constitutional officers or their deputy and School Superintendent Janet Valentine was in the room, along with one reporter. The meeting was televised.)
The Kimberle Weeks email to county and school board officials from Thursday afternoon:
From: Kimberle Weeks [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 07, 2012 4:36 PM
To: ‘Christie L. Mayer’ [County Executive Assistant]
Cc: ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’; ‘Albert J. Hadeed’; ‘email@example.com’; ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’
Subject: June 7, 2012 Delivery of School Board Ballot Language
Thank you for delivering the six page document to the elections office this afternoon regarding the revised language of the Flagler County School Board Referendum that is to be placed on the 2012 August 14, 2012 ballot.
Per our conversation I would to again remind you of the following:
I cannot refuse to place the language on the ballot; even if the new language has not gone before the board of county commissioners for approval prior to the submission deadline to the elections office; which is noon (12:00 p.m) June 8, 2012.Though Mr. Coffey and Mr. Hadeed may believe the revised language can be ratified by the board of county commissioners at a date following the submission deadline of June 8, 2012 at noon, I don’t see it that way and feel there may be a risk of the referendum item being challenged causing disappointment to those who may support the referendum item and unnecessary expense to the county.
As was stated to you in our phone conversation, Mr. Hadeed should be aware of FS 101.161, and never should have signed off on the first language that exceeded the 75 word limitation.
As was also stated to you, School Board attorney, Kristy Gavin found the revised language important enough to take back before the school board for approval, that this should also be necessary to take back before the board of county commissioners to accept the revised language; language they have never seen or previously approved.
I am not refusing to place the language on the ballot as you have presented to me today, as my duties are ministerial, but I certainly prefer to follow the law, and prevent the risk of challenges.
Kimberle B. Weeks
Flagler County Supervisor of Elections
The Coffey memo and the ballot language”: