Flagler County Commissioner Milissa Holland’s announcement last week that she will be running for the Florida House triggered a fever-pitched scramble for clarity over what happens next: when does Holland make her resignation effective, whether a special election would be held to fill it, whether the governor would appoint a replacement.
The Flagler County Supervisor of Elections and the state Division of Elections have answered those questions. There will be a regular election for Holland’s seat—presumably, a primary and a general—in line with the year’s regular election schedule.
On Tuesday, Holland submitted her letter of resignation to Kimberle Weeks, the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections, and faxed then mailed copies of the letters to the Florida Department of State and the governor’s office. Holland’s resignation is effective Nov. 6. So she will serve out half her term, whatever happens in her run for the House. By law, candidates must resign the elected seat they’re currently holding to run for another office. The only exception applies to candidates for Congress. The resign-to-run law does not apply in those cases.
Two candidates have already announced for that seat: the first is Republican Frank Meeker, who has been on the Palm Coast City Council for the past five years. “As of today I’m submitting my irrevocable letter of resignation to the city council,” Meeker said this morning. “I’ve been working all the way to the county commission for years. There’s an opportunity, and I intend to run a strong campaign to get it.”
Meeker’s resignation is also effective Nov. 6. (Meeker and Holland were no stranger to each other’s designs, either: they talked their plans—among other issues—over dinner at the Portuguese Club on May 17, the evening Holland first announced her run.)
The second is Dennis McDonald, also a Republican and a member of the local Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies who’s increasingly been making his voice heard at public meetings in recent months, including a berating appearance before the Palm Coast City Council last week, when he compared Mayor Jon Netts to Nancy Pelosi because of a proposed levy’s open-endedness. McDonald was criticizing the council’s approval of a new utility tax (technically called a “fee”) to help replace a stormwater levy the city is eliminating. McDonald is instantly recognizable as the tallest, lankiest man in most rooms. He stands about 6’6’’. He filed his papers with the supervisor’s office this morning.
There is slightly less clarity regarding the future of Meeker’s seat on the council.
By city charter, if there is a vacancy within the first two years of a term, the council makes an appointment effective until the next regularly-scheduled election. If the vacancy occurs within the second two years of the council member’s term, an appointment is made for the balance of the term, until the next regularly scheduled election. In either case, there is no special election.
The wrinkle in Meeker’s case is this: the charter addresses four-year terms, and uses clauses such as “less than half of the term remaining” and “more than half the term remaining,” or “within the first two years of a term” and “the last two years of a term.” That would be clear enough if Meeker’s term was, in fact, a four-year term.
But it isn’t. The council extended it to five years. Meeker was first elected in 2007, when he defeated Jerome Full in an election that was itself finishing out the term of a seat vacated by Netts, when he was elected mayor. Meeker ran unopposed in 2009 (as did Bill Lewis). Meeker’s term was to end in 2013. But voters last year approved changing election schedules in Palm Coast to coincide with general elections on even years. What few voters knew was that they were also extending Meeker’s and Lewis’s terms by a year.
With Meeker’s term now ending in 2014, there’ll be two years left to the term when he leaves the council in November. But there are clearly more than two years left from the moment of his announced resignation. And the city changed its election schedule in order to be in line with the national election schedule–which it now would be, regarding Meeker’s open seat. That would argue for an election rather than an appointment. Netts in an interview this morning said he’ll leave it up to the city attorney to decipher the next steps.
Meeker, 57, described himself as a “staff member” with the St. Johns River Water Management District. He was formerly an ombudsman there, but the position was eliminated, and Meeker successfully lobbied to win a job back. He was surprisingly cagey about his exact title at the district, which he did not provide. A management spokesman did: Meeker is a senior regulatory scientist, at an annual salary of $85,000.
There was some question over the Holland seat being filled by a governor’s appointment, and rumored jockeying on Meeker’s part to lobby for that appointment, but those possibilities were made moot by Division of Elections and local elections officials concurring on the next step.
Citing Florida law (“With regard to an elective office, the resignation creates a vacancy in office to be filled by election. Persons may qualify as candidates for nomination and election as if the public officer’s term were otherwise scheduled to expire”), the supervisor’s office said: “Any interested individual wanting to run for County Commissioner District 2, may qualify for this office during June 4, 2012, from noon through June 8, 2012 ending at noon. Anyone with questions may contact the Supervisor of Elections Office between 8:30a.m. – 4:30p.m. Monday through Friday at 313-4170.”
Of course, candidates will not have time to fill out the hundreds of petitions needed to qualify for the election without paying a fee. That fee, absent petitions—the equivalent of 6 percent of the annual salary for that position—is $2,883.66 for Republicans or Democrats or members of other parties. It’s $1,927.44 for non-party affiliated candidates.
Flagler County commissioners are paid an annual salary of $48,061.
Bottom line: four seats are up on the county commission this year: those of incumbents George Hanns, Barbara Revels and Alan Peterson, and that of Holland, leaving Nate McLaughlin the lone lounger. Hanns and Peterson have drawn opponents. Revels has not. But the real race will be for Holland’s District 2 seat: any open seat usually draws droves of candidates.
Democrats—like most Republicans until this week—were not aware that there would be an election. Holland attended the last Flagler County Democratic Club meeting on Tuesday. “Everybody was excited about her candidacy except Doug Courtney,” club President Merrill Shapiro said, but the matter of fielding candidates never came up except in a side discussion, when several members of the club wondered about the mechanics of Holland’s resignation.
Shapiro (who heads the FlaglerLive advisory board) said the open-seat election was news to him, and that he had no notions yet of who Democrats might field. “I don’t feel I’ve been around long enough to know if there are people waiting in the wings or if there are people who have been on the county commission before who might come forward,” Shapiro said. Shapiro recently took over the club’s leadership by default when ex-president Doug Beaven resigned in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan.
Calling back moments later, Shapiro said, “the Democrats will field at least one, and because there might be two and there might be a primary, we’ll stay out of it. The club has to be even handed.”
Dan Parham, who heads the Flagler County Democratic Executive Committee, was also not aware that there would be an election for that seat. He was not prepared to suggest names Democrats might field. “If there is going to be an election, then I will have to get busy,” he said.