Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks has been at odds with Palm Coast over election-cycle-related errors in the city’s charter and ordinances. She hasn’t seen Bunnell’s.
The errors played a part in disqualifying incumbent Jenny Crain-Brady from the March election. That disqualification is final: Bunnell’s city attorney told Crain-Brady that the window had closed, and Crain-Brady does not intend to contest it.
Crain-Brady had fulfilled all requirements to qualify but one. She missed paying a $96 fee by the prescribed deadline. She’s making it clear: she is not contesting the disqualification. She is taking full responsibility for not paying the fee. And she has no personal beef with City Clerk Sandi Bolser, who oversees the election process on the city’s side.
But the commissioner is just as adamant that errors and irregularities were not hers alone. She’s right: a Bunnell city ordinance and a calendar of election cycles released by the Supervisor of Elections bear errors that relate to Bunnell’s election. The city manager concedes that he could have provided better oversight at least in so far as the accuracy of the election ordinances were concerned, since those were approved just after he was appointed. Sandi Bolser, the city clerk who is directly responsible for the city’s election process, also concedes that she made errors, but insists that none were malicious, and that she placed remaining neutral above all priorities.
To Crain-Brady, errors that riddle the city’s election process should not be penalizing candidates, while state law, she says, clearly placed the city clerk in the position of a helper, not a neutral observer.
Bunnell’s Most Popular Commissioner
She’s not a newcomer to the process, nor have her elections been close in the past. Crain-Brady was first elected in 2007 as the top vote-getter in that year’s contest, re-elected in 2009 without opposition and re-elected again in 2011 as the top vote-getter. She stood a very good chance of winning again this year in what would have been a five-way election for two seats.
This time around, she’d already run into an issue with her petition, when she qualified—or thought she qualified—by turning in the 16 required petitions in December, which allowed her not to pay the $288 qualifying fee. (She still had to pay the $96 state fee all candidates must pay whether they qualify by petition or not.)
As it turned out, the city ordinance listed the deadline for qualifying by petition as Monday, Dec. 17. Crain-Brady focused on the 17th. But the 17th was a Tuesday. The petitions were actually due on Monday, Dec. 16. Crain-Brady turned them in, but had to scramble at the last minute.
The issue of the payment is a mixture of Crain-Brady’s errors and the city’s.
The city’s ordinance set the deadline for turning in all qualifying papers and fees due at 4 p.m. last Friday. But Bolser had sent out an addendum to the elections procedure booklet that all candidates receive that moved the deadline back to noon. That was a mistake. Bolser says she was relying on a document from the Supervisor of Elections that mistakenly lists the noon deadline. The supervisor’s calendar was wrong on that count, but the supervisor’s calendar is only informational: it has no authority over Bunnell’s election process, which is set by the city’s own ordinance. The ordinance had the deadline set at 4 p.m. That’s what should have been the controlling information. Bolser erred when she assumed that the supervisor’s information was controlling.
“My bottom line is I would like everybody to know I did not do this maliciously,” Bolser said. And in any case Crain-Brady did not turn in the required $96 either before noon or before 4 p.m., so she was late either way.
Crain-Brady does not dispute this. But she does have issues with what took place between noon and 4 p.m. By noon, she says, Bolser clearly knew that the $96 had not been turned in. Bolser agrees: Bolser says that it was at that point that “I started scrambling,” looking for the check, thinking it had been misplaced, asking the finance director if it had been turned in there, then asking the supervisor of elections how to proceed (Weeks, the supervisor, referred her to state law and city ordinances). Bolser had several conversations or contacts with various people, including the city manager, the city attorney Wade Vose, and twice with a reporter, between noon and 4 p.m.—but no conversation with Crain-Brady, who was within walking distance of city offices at all times.
“Larry told me to call wade our attorney to find out what’s what with it, so I called him and he said absolutely no, if she didn’t turn it in, she’s not qualified,” Bolser said.
That’s what bothers Crain-Brady most: it seems to her that she was at the heart of the matter but the last to be told of it. “So from the time she first found it, I still have four more hours,” Crain-Brady says.
Bolser contacted her shortly after 4 p.m. to let her know that she had not qualified, and that a news article would soon appear to that effect.
“I’m still taking the blame, I didn’t get my check in, but like I said, I could have used a little phone call,” Crain-Brady says, citing state law that clearly states that the city clerk “shall” help candidates through the process.
A City Manager’s Balancing Act
Crain-Brady is also dismayed by the city manager’s response: he threw up his hands, she says, and said, according to her, “I have nothing to do with elections.”
Williams is right and wrong on that count. A city manager does not meddle in city elections per se; a manager does not play favorites, advises candidates or places the helpful phone calls. “As a city manager I do not get involved in that process once it starts,” Williams said. Nor should city clerks. “In the city where I worked in, I know the city clerks never called the candidates on getting documents in, crossing t’s, dotting i’s.”
But a city manager is responsible for ensuring that the right ordinances, the correct wording, the proper agreements between the city and the supervisor of elections are all in place, and all accurate. That’s the part Williams was not on top of. But—aside from having the excuse of being thrown into the process mid-stream—he is not be alone on that count: Palm Coast and the Supervisor of Elections are at loggerheads over Palm Coast’s elections going back to 2011, as well as Palm Coast’s upcoming elections, because its city manager was not on top of ensuring that all ordinances and the city charter were accurate. The errors are minor and are being fixed in Palm Coast—and they’re not causing any qualifying issues—but they remain at the center of a time-consuming conflict with the supervisor.
Crain-Brady, it should also be noted, opposed Williams’s appointment, and the two have not seen eye to eye since. The politics surrounding Williams’s tenure continue to be intense, with undercurrents of criticism leveled at Williams by his opponents (who also include Mayor Catherine Robinson) whether the criticism is fair or not. Williams is trying to navigate defending his staff while not appearing to be disfavoring a commission member.
“I think Sandi made the proper attempt to everybody and everybody got the same opportunity. It’s a shame that it happened,” Williams said in an interview. “It’s a shame. Unfortunately it’s another black eye that we have to suffer. They’re both very good people. Sandi is as honest as the day I was born and Commissioner Brady is a very fine person, but as far as qualifying time, the law is the law.”
Bolser notes that Crain-Brady had been in her office a week before the deadline and had asked what still needed to be done. Bolser reminded her about the fee, which in effect fulfilled her responsibility to be helpful, as the law states.
“I understand her frustration,” Bolser said. “I talked to her yesterday late, I said ‘Jenny, bottom line I made a mistake too that was date related, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about it, but according to Wade there’s nothing I can do now to correct what I did but ultimately it was your responsibility to get your material turned in, because it wasn’t written in one spot.’”
Through it all, Crain-Brady has been contending with difficult issues out of her control that have nothing to do with city business, and that have occupied her disproportionately. She’s not claiming that as an excuse so much as an explanation. And she’s neither angry nor bitter over the election matter. She thought of contesting it, if such an avenue was open. But it might have meant suing. “I’m the last person who want anything to do with creating a lawsuit from the city of Bunnell,” she says. Even though state law puts some responsibility on the city clerk, “it really doesn’t hold up in a court of law because ultimately the burden is on me.”
That leaves four candidates for the March 4 election to two seats: incumbent John Rogers, past Commissioner Daisy Henry, and newcomers Randall Morris and Bonita Robinson.