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County Forcefully Rejects Elections Supervisor’s Claims That Campaign Sign Restrictions Hurt Turnout

| August 5, 2014

The pollution is allowable in this case, because it's on private property--in this case, on the grounds of the Knights of Columbus last month, where the local tea party held its candidate meet-and-greet. (© FlaglerLive)

The pollution is allowable in this case, because it’s on private property–in this case, on the grounds of the Knights of Columbus last month, where the local tea party held its candidate meet-and-greet. (© FlaglerLive)

Few blights match those of campaign signs at election time. With that in mind, states, counties and cities usually have unequivocal rules, though the rules aren’t always followed. Florida law is clear: Political campaign signs are to stay off all state and county rights of way. The law doesn’t preclude municipalities “from imposing additional or more stringent requirements.” The Palm Coast ordinance is just as clear: “It is prohibited and unlawful to place a political sign on or within public rights-of-way or public property.” Flagler County’s ordinance repeats the same language. Flagler Beach goes so far as to regulate the size of signs on private property, and makes no allowance for signs on public property. (Note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly applied the state law provision to county “property,” as opposed to rights of way.)

Despite that, Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks and Dennis McDonald, the man who appears to have become an equally tall but blonder Rasputin to Weeks’s semi-regular clashes with local government, lambasted the county commission Monday, claiming the county’s ordinance restricting signs to private property suppresses free speech, reduces turnout, particularly at the public library, and reflects a county government “interfering” with local elections.


“If the county would simply allow only current laws that are in place to govern the elections process,” Weeks told commissioners, “it would eliminate a lot of confusion and I believe allow the elections to be fair.”

Of course, that’s precisely what the county is enforcing: only current law.

But Weeks, who at point claimed not to know whether the county had a policy in place and speculated it might only be a verbal directive, was not appeased by County Administrator Craig Coffey’s and County Attorney Al Hadeed’s detailed and evidence-based correctives.

An hour in, what was to be a routine and short meeting got briefly tense as Weeks would return to the podium to press her case. That  prompted an unusual intervention by County Commissioner George Hanns, whose patience ad permissiveness with public speakers occasionally gets on fellow-commissioners’ nerves. Not this time: “Ms. Weeks, we’re going to have to stop this dialogue, because it’s interfering with the county commission today,” Hanns said. “It wasn’t on the agenda, we went way beyond what we should have.” (It wasn’t on the agenda, but he and the administration knew it was coming: the administration had drafted a memo in response.) Hanns refuted the notion that there’s been issues with signs “other than with people who are pushy in the area of the elections office to polling. It’s been my experience that it turns people off.”

george hanns flagler county commission district 5 candidate elections 2012 herb whitaker

George Hanns. (© FlaglerLive)

When Weeks challenged the commission to “hold yourself to the same standard,” by criticizing it of posting some of its own signs on county property, County Attorney Al Hadeed intervened: “There is a world of difference between a governmental message and a message from a  private person. They are two totally different worlds legally.”

At the end of the meeting, Hanns made a long plea for civility at election time, especially in government meetings. “This is a public meeting, it isn’t a campaign forum.”

McDonald, a director of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies who last teamed up with Weeks to criticize Palm Coast voting ordinances (unsuccessfully), is a candidate for the County Commission against Frank meeker. So Monday’s appearance was of a piece with a sustained strategy of bomb-throwing in hopes of drawing attention. The bomb-throwing was rich in polemic but devoid of evidence, either that voters themselves (as opposed to very few candidates) were upset by the signage rule, or that turnout has in any way been affected by the ordinance: apathy is universal across the county, the state and the nation, regardless of signs.

McDonald alluded to Coffee allegedly making new policy to restrict signs at the county public library on Palm Coast Parkway. “I don’t believe that that’s possible, Mr. chairman, it’s our library, we own it,” McDonald said, revving up for his more inelegant finish: “Where does the county administrator get off on how we’re going to handle elections? To the best of my knowledge, we elected a supervisor of elections, she is a constitutional officer, and she should be made to make the call on all of this, so I’d like to ask you all to stay out of it and allow the election to take place freely.”

McDonald is wrong. The supervisor must, as she herself stated a few moments later, work within laws and ordinances state, counties and cities establish. “Outside of that,” Weeks said, referring to the 100-foot perimeter around polling places, within which no solicitation is allowed, “I have  no authority over what takes place.”

That would be just Hadded’s and Coffey’s point. Coffey is not setting policy on how to run elections, but reasserting—as is his responsibility as the county’s chief executive—county authority, as authorized by its ordinance, on county property regarding signs.

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“Many years ago and several elections ago staff was faced with an ever increasing disregard of the public’s property and a proliferation of signs everywhere,” Coffee told commissioners, reading from his  prepared memo. “We were accused of not protecting the public’s property, favoritism for selective enforcement, and we received complaints about the appearance of our community and specifically regarding the public properties where the abuses were the worst.” Coffey outlined the context and reasoning behind the county ordinance. (See the full memo here. Weeks later issued her own memo, available here.) The same words could be applied to the Palm Coast City Council, whose members routinely–at election time–get complaints by constituents who want political signs restricted or banned, even when they appear on private property.

Weeks was not convinced and returned to the charge, saying the county was imposing a double standard. Earlier, she had made numerous claims that were at odds with the record.

“Every election I’m seeing it gets a little bit more hostile when it comes to early voting,” Weeks said, “so I would like to request that if a policy is in place to limit the placement of campaign signs at early voting sites, currently the Palm Coast library and the elections office are the two location that are county property, that the policy be revoked. I’m not aware of a policy, there may not be a policy in place, if it’s in writing. It may be something verbal. But I don’t believe there should be a policy in place.”

Weeks said the county’s rule creates confusion, claiming that now with an additional early voting site at the Palm Coast Community Center, there would be “two different sets of rules,” making it “difficult for me to educate people”—again, not accurate: the county’s and Palm Coast’s rules on campaign signs are identical, though enforcement may be different. Weeks said more correctly that she gets blamed for rules that are out of her control. So instead of signs, Weeks said, campaigns are having volunteers distribute materials, generating “more signs by persons physically being present at early voting locations to erect them. In other words the people have spoken in stating that they do not agree with the restrictions that have continued to place their signs on county property, so they physically choose to hold their signs and that’s the only way they can allow their signs to be seen.”

By “people,” Weeks should have specified: campaign volunteers and candidates. “There have been verbal confrontations, people walking back and forth to the parking lot to their vehicles as traffic’s trying to come in and finds a place to park in the library and people are setting up chairs in the parking lot by vehicles to hold signs,” Weeks said—again, not specifying that she was referring to campaign workers. She would do so once, later. “I constantly get complaints that this is very intimidating and uncomfortable to the voters. Some state that they’ll not vote if they have to go through those practices in order to vote.”

Absent evidence from Weeks, Coffey said: “I know she has stated a lot of things, and I think some of those are, I would say, opinion.”

When commissioners asked Hadeed for a legal opinion, Hadeed barely hid his impatience with the claims that had just been made by McDonald and Weeks.

“I don’t know that you need a legal opinion,” Hadeed said. “First off, the assumption that’s been made or presented is that by allowing signs to be installed on public property, that that act, permitting them, would increase access by the voters, increase participation in the election, increase turnout. That has not been established, so it is conjecture. Only conjecture. If you believe from your own experience—I mean, I don’t campaign. If you believe in your own experience that that is a supportable factual proposition, I’m not talking about a law I’m, talking about a fact, if you believe that installing signs on public property is going to have that result, then it may be an open question for you.”

He added later: “This community in my service on this commission over the years, this community has generally stated, which is reflected in your codes, that they don’t like a proliferation of signs or a competition of signs. They view it as visual pollution, and the many ways they’ve expressed it to you, and I’m sure you’ve heard that. We don’t allow any more billboards. I realize that doesn’t count here on the issue. We just bought some signs to take them out of the public view-shed. Our policies have been to reduce sign clutter. I’m using that—that’s actually a term from First Amendment cases. We want to reduce sign clutter. That is what the Flagler County government has consistently done over time. So what is reflected in this rule, what is reflected in our code, what is reflected by what Mr. Coffey has said, is consistent throughout.”

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18 Responses for “County Forcefully Rejects Elections Supervisor’s Claims That Campaign Sign Restrictions Hurt Turnout”

  1. KMedley says:

    Note to SOE Weeks and the RRRAFL – Voter Turnout Increased from 2010 to 2012, for the Primary Elections – despite signs and supporters.

    According to the 2010 Primary Election results, available at the Supervisor of Elections’ website:

    http://www.flaglerelections.com/Portals/Flagler/pdfs/results/2010-prim-oesr.pdf

    and the 2012 Primary Election Results, available at:

    http://www.flaglerelections.com/Portals/Flagler/pdfs/results/2012-primary-esr-official.pdf

    a total of 14,113 of 64,277 registered voters cast a ballot in 2010 and 16,949 of 67,606 did the same in 2012. The turnout for the 2010 and 2012 Primary Elections were 21.96% and 25.07%, respectively.

    If Ms. Weeks seeks to assign blame for the increasing hostilities witnessed at the Early Voting locations, she need look no further than “the tall but blonder Rasputin”, Mr. Dennis McDonald, “a director of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies”. [FlaglerLive 8/5/2014]

    His group is responsible for the formation of the gauntlet at the Flagler County Public Library, wherein many of this group aggressively approached voters during the 2012 Primary and General elections. The same group is responsible for one of its members grabbing an elder member of the local Republican Executive Committee in order to prevent her from gaining access to shared office space. This group is why voter parking spaces had to be designated as they claimed the parking spaces closest to the entrance of the library. The very group that demands an adherence to the Constitution now seeks to limit the right of free speech by forming a tag-team with the Supervisor of Elections in an effort to effect a smack-down of the County Commission.

    SOE Weeks continues to cultivate a very public partnership with not only the candidates endorsed by the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies; she has, in this voter’s opinion, aligned herself with this group in an almost exclusive manner. As Flaglerlive points out, it was this alliance that sought to challenge the City of Palm Coast and its election process. The Secretary of State was required to intervene. Exactly what is the deal with the Supervisor of Elections and this group?

    • Genie says:

      Note to KMedley: Putting the Blame Game aside for a moment, we must keep in mind that 2010 was an off year or mid term election, while 2012 was a presidential election, which always brings out much higher numbers, nationally as well as locally.

  2. tulip says:

    Regarding the library, perhaps one sign each at each side of the library and the size restricted to certain measurements? One campaign person per sign and the person has to stay with the sign, eliminating approaching people who don’t want to be bothered. Also, NO big trucks with signs blocking everything either.

    Just some suggestions that someone might give some thought to.

  3. Genie says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Hanns, a long serving incumbent, this is the only community in which I have lived where there is so little information available to the public about elections. Signs are an important part of this information.

    The voter turnout numbers here are a clear indication of that. Of course the incumbents are not eager to change that.

  4. Dennis McDonald says:

    County Administrator Coffey Saves Flagler From Lawn Signs.

    If that is the position as stated by Mr. Coffey “We were accused of not protecting the public’s property, favoritism for selective enforcement, and we received complaints about the appearance of our community and specifically regarding the public properties where the abuses were the worst.” then be consistent !

    I asked the BOCC if they were having Coffey protect us from lawn signs for two weeks then how is he allowed to let Landon and the CRA operate on CR 401/Bull Dog Drive ?

    Al Hadeed told the BOCC that he had answered my questions of ownership of CR401 from my March 5 2014 in person visit to his office and Coffey’s[ Coffey never responded] In fact after yesterday’s meeting I met with Al and reminded him HE promised to research the “complex issue” and provide all the information to the BOCC for their decision how to conclude this by having Mr. Coffey place this on the agenda for Public review and comment then final resolution.

    Today is exactly Five months and waiting.

    Dennis McDonald

  5. Dennis McDonald says:

    Reality check on the Gauntlet Creation !

    There were approximately 30 more candidates in the 2012 primary election than this year. 9 for CD6, 5 for Sheriff, 7 for Judge, 2 for County Clerk, 2 for State Attorney, 2 for district 24 and of course 4 for SOE. All of these candidates come with “multiple helpers “.

    Rep Supervisor Of Elections REP
    Total
    Number of Precincts 23
    Times Counted 9284/25026 37.1 %
    Total Votes 8425
    Trey Corbett REP 2929 34.77%
    Kimble Medley REP 1351 16.04%
    Pam Richardson REP 2849 33.82%
    Allen D. Whetsell REP 1296 15.38%

    Taking a wild guess this might be why the early Voting tightened up the polling places in 2012. Then again you could call Secretary of State Detzner and have the former Beer Lobbyist stick his foot in mouth, again !

    Coffey drives the BOCC like they are children on a bus, yet NO Voter in Flagler elected Coffey !

    As for Palm Coast you would trust Netts with Landon and Lewis who stated he did not care how hard it was for people to Vote just this last fall ?

    Did it somehow slip your minds that these are the same turkeys that gave us the red light cameras [RLC’s] UNTIL 2019, Meeker led the charge to pass Resolution 12-644 and approve 37 more RLC’s just two years ago ?

    Dennis McDonald

    • KMedley says:

      Mr. McDonald:

      It must be a wonderful world wherein you are able to selectively choose slivers of quotes from which to make a foundation for your arguments.

      “yet NO Voter in Flagler elected Coffey !”

      Both the County Commissioners and City Council are elected at large by registered voters of Flagler County and Palm Coast, respectively. We as a Nation are a republic and thereby rely on a representative form of government. The people’s elected officials hired Mr. Coffey and Mr. Landon.

      “As for Palm Coast you would trust Netts with Landon and Lewis who stated he did not care how hard it was for people to Vote just this last fall ?”

      Once again you take a quote completely out of context. Reminds me of what many members of the media do with conservative talk radio hosts. That exchange took place during a meeting wherein SOE Weeks was attempting to demonstrate the hardships voters are asked to endure. Mr. Lewis shared his own voting experience and reminded us all of a time when many stood in lines to vote. There was a time when Early Voting was not an option and neither was voting by absentee as convenient as it is today. And, yet, despite the absence of Early Voting and the restrictions that used to apply to voting by absentee, folks still managed to vote and the turnout was much greater.

      Quite honestly sir, are you running for County Commission or City Council?

  6. confidential says:

    I wholly agree that signs should be allowed in the early voting and election days in the precinct locations owned by us the tax payers/public, whether city or county, same as are allowed in the private owned voting precincts in those dates..
    SOE Weeks was asking for them to be allowed in the library only on early voting and election day NOT allover everywhere in county properties as Commissioners, administrator and Hadeed county attorney purported. I see the attitude of FC commissioners and administrator as one of voter suppression to the contrary of avoiding blight to content the community sectors demands.
    I am still wondering why Flaglerlive, that I am fond of, jumps on the same bandwagon against good SOE Weeks. Also I find very offensive the Rasputin naming of candidate McDonald as much as I found offensive the remarks of FCBOCC Chair Hanns against all the present citizens that spoke against their rulings regarding signs and other issues on the 3 minutes of public comments. Further more offensive was to have a constitutional official disrespected by allowing her only to speak on the 3 minutes public comments. Seems like the FCBOCC, administrator and county lawyer forget she was re-elected by 61% of the votes in this county a percentage that none of you enjoyed yet!

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Confidential, there’s no bandwagon here. There are individual issues. The story lays out this one with each side’s extensive points reported exactly as spoken. Weeks was not limited to three minutes, and in fact spoke on three different occasions until she was stopped the last time by Hanns, which is very unusual when a constitutional officer is at the podium, but this commission has extensive experience of how these back and forth duels can, and have, gone in the past, so he was likely trying to avoid a recurrence of that.

  7. Toni Baker, Candidate for School Board says:

    As a candidate for Flager County School board, District 2, I can attest (somewhat to my chagrin) that I do not have signs cluttering any property let alone the public’s propert!. I hope to be a human sign, during the elections. I am on a huge learning curve when it comes to politics here in Flagler County. I have to say, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for grassroots, do it by yourself candidates. I have learned a lot through this forum. I just want the best for our children!

  8. confidential says:

    Yes, SOE Weeks spoke 3 times and in one occasion allowed more than 3 minutes, but was allowed only to speak in the public comments section of the meeting, when she is a “constitutional official”. What about at least taking her issue in the new business of the agenda, giving her the proper time to present her case? The past extensive experience, you mentioned, the commission had dueling with our current SOE was generated by many unfair accusations, micromanagement and disrespect for the SOE as soon as she was elected. To me as a taxpayer and resident those past meeting issues that county commission had against SOE Weeks was just plain witch hunt.
    Also other than chastise the current political candidates for questioning their rulings that FCBOCC and their administrator impose, they should be commended just for running for office instead. I guess commission is just very comfortable with status quo not welcoming any changes. Then why to allow for signs on early voting and election day on our public owned precincts… correct?

  9. Diana L. says:

    To me, signs are unsightly and I have not EVER voted for a person because of their sign. I wouldn’t care if we had NONE.
    The SOE teaming up with the RRR is not a good thing, in my mind.

  10. Rick says:

    Yea, all these poster signs look so nice littered along the highways & clustered at the intersections. The clustered & trashed appearing intersections immediately bring to mind the low life corners of the Bronx & others.

  11. Let's see now says:

    I think this is ridiculously petty! when I started voting 23 years ago, people simply did NOT behave like this. there were signs neatly placed on an angle, as you entered the voting facilities. NO PEOPLE. To remind you of who to vote for. Statistics show, supposedly, the last name you see is the person you will vote for.

    Me, as far as today’s election process goes; the politician that treats their running mate the worst is the one who will NOT get my vote. If you are willing and able to be that nasty in public, spend so much time focusing on the negative issues of your running mate, instead of telling me what YOU can do. I can only imagine how nasty, ugly and lazy you are going to be behind closed doors.

  12. BW says:

    There’s a few interesting (and hypocritical) points here:

    1. Voter turnout dropping coincided with Kimberle Weeks becoming the Supervisor of Elections, and has struggled ever since.

    2. The rare occassion we ever hear from our Elections Supervisor is to attack others.

    3. Elections communications and engagement with the community from the Elections Office has been a huge issue ever since Kimberle Weeks has taken office. Perhaps if she put the same time and energy she does into attacking others on made up conspiracy theories and issues, we might be better informed and increase turnout.

    4. Weeks makes statements about the people at the library as an issue yet she had her daughter and two very young grandsons there many days and hours during the 2012 election with her grandsons approaching voters to hand out her own campaign paraphenalia.

    5. During the 2012 election Ms. Weeks made it a point to state on several occassions how she was not aligned with any fringe political activist group in an effort to point this out as a negative about her opponent. Yet here she is very closely working with the same political acitivist group. I guess we know who is really running our elections now.

    6. One of the biggest complaints in the area about elections are the signs. It was brought up at almost every forum and every encounter with voters during the 2012 election. If you were a candidate or worked on a campaign it was a point that was very loud and clear. So I think the only one NOT listening to the people is Ms. Weeks and Mr. McDonald.

    7. Yes, Ms Weeks won two elections. It is very obvious in our country that “the people” often get it wrong in elections . . . and can do so twice.

    Yes, we have an issue with voter turnout and the problem that has caused that result is sitting in our Elections Office. If the only solution one can think of in regards to declining voter turnout is signs, it is obvious that person is clueless. The issue is not that people are not aware there is an election going, it is that we are not building a voting culture in our community. That is done through engagement not planting more signs that the people are already saying turn them off. How disgraceful to behave in such a way at a County meeting and to be so very ignorant.

  13. also confidential says:

    well said BW

  14. Thea Hein-Mathen says:

    I wish there was a way to keep unwanted political signs off my private property. Candidates think that any corner is fair game. Come Monday quite a number of them will be removed!

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