Ending months of wrangles with the city, Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks said she will conduct Palm Coast’s municipal election this year after all. Weeks said she submit an agreement to the city formalizing the process.
But she did not tell the city as much. Weeks, underlining her sometimes cabalistic approach to addressing—or resolving—issues, took to the pages of the Palm Coast Observer to pen a caustic OpEd on Tuesday, essentially coloring her concession in whitish knighthood: “The city has never conducted its own election, and my concern is.” Weeks wrote, if city officials “can’t follow the simple laws and rules to modify their city charter without issues being raised, how in the world would they ever be able to conduct an election that the voters could have confidence of being honest and fair? There’s no doubt if the city conducted its own election that the mayor and City Council would remain silent if issues were raised, and the city attorney and city manager would, without fail, do all that they could to convince the citizens everything was just fine, even if it wasn’t.”
In other words, only Weeks can save Palm Coast from itself. After devoting the first two-thirds of the piece to lambasting top official in the administration and every council member while summarizing her intentions, she portrayed herself as taxpayers’ and the electoral process’ last protection.
Palm Coast welcomed the breakthrough, though not without its attorney raising a verbal eyebrow as he announced the matter at a city council meeting Tuesday evening.
“While the city has not heard anything directly from the supervisor in response to our most recent communications, both verbal and in writing, we did become aware just this afternoon that the supervisor chose to communicate to the city through a letter to the editor in one of our local medias,”Bill Reischmann said, summing up her intention to submit an agreement. “If this is indeed the case, and as I’ve indicated, we’ve not heard—I’ve never heard from the supervisor, she’s never communicated with me—so if this is indeed the case, we are very pleased and look forward to working with her office, and look forward to her cooperation and preparation of the necessary documentation so our city clerk and the supervisor’s office can agree that she will be working to supervise, which is her responsibility, the elections that are in 2014.”
Weeks’s 1,400-word piece was a clever way for Weeks to save face and perhaps regain the initiative after a damaging few months in which she appeared to be unreasonably digging her heels against the counsel of every official attorney queried on the matter, including the county and city attorneys, and the attorney at the state Division of Elections. She was doing so on what was, at heart, an arcane issue only she had raised concerns about—the scheduling of the 2011 referendum in which the city changed its election cycle to even-numbered years.
There’s no question that Palm Coast’s city administration, under the ignoring eye of its occasionally somnolent city council, flubbed the finer points of that election, but not its essence. Scrivener’s mistakes were made in the rewriting of ordinances and the charter pertaining to the vote, and some wording in both city ordinances and the charter was never correctly updated until Weeks herself pointed it out.
“The issues I raised as supervisor of elections apparently were valid, otherwise the city would not have addressed them by adopting ordinances in late January 2014,” Weeks wrote in her OpEd. No one, including council members or the city manager and attorney, questioned whether the issues were valid: they swiftly set to work addressing the issues and resolving them.
But Weeks saw nefarious intent where there was mere negligence, and pressed her case on that account. “The need to adopt ordinances should have been a big red flag for the city’s elected officials because if their employees (city manager and city attorney) were properly doing their job in 2011, there would not have been any issues to raise that required attention and the need to adopt ordinances,” she wrote. “Because the ‘big red flag’ existed, the city should have cooperated with me by requesting the formal opinion as I requested to protect the taxpayers’ pocket book against any challenges.”
Last year Weeks had successfully fought off the city’s attempt to charge her for weekend and after-hour use of the Palm Coast Community Center during early voting—an attempt to wring money out of the supervisor that made the city look petty and out of touch. But in that case, too, Weeks pressed a broader battle, demanding to use the large council chamber at the center throughout the voting period, even when the council is scheduled to meet, though a separate, smaller room was being made available for voting. After much dueling over several Weeks, the supervisor gave in and accepted the smaller room when necessary.
The same pattern of making the case for a justifiable issue, then devolving into impetuous opposition, tainted Weeks’s contentions about the 2011 vote.
Weeks has been demanding that the city seek an opinion from the state attorney general’s office to certify that the way the city went about resolving the issue was proper—and to ostensibly ensure against a lawsuit from a voter down the line, which Weeks says could expose the city to damaging costs.
The city is not worried. Only the city can seek that attorney general’s opinion. But city officials have not seen the need to do so.
For several months Weeks appeared ready not to supervise Palm Coast’s municipal elections this year. That would have forced Palm Coast to supervise its own. It would have also created mind-boggling confusion for voters, because separate precincts would have had to be set up for simultaneous elections—those supervised by Weeks, for all other elections on the ballot (from governor to school board to county commission and so on), and those set up by the city for the two council seats up for election.
The city attorney’s comments at the council meeting Tuesday evening were prompted as much by the supervisor’s piece in the Observer as by a threat by Dennis McDonald, the government critic and county commission candidate, to seek a writ of mandamus to compel the city to seek an attorney general’s opinion. But McDonald misinterpreted the way such orders can be handed down: while such orders are extraordinarily rare—and almost unheard of in matters involving city business—they may be issued regarding specific duties that a government must perform but isn’t performing.
No such thing has taken place in this election matter: the seeking of an opinion from the attorney general’s office has not only been deemed unnecessary by lawyers involved in the case. It is also entirely at the city’s discretion. Nothing in state law, in city ordinances or in the city charter requires the city to obtain such an opinion, and nothing is left of the matter that compels it, except the words of Weeks and McDonald.
Both Weeks and McDonald also made spurious claims against “local media,” alleging, in McDonald’s words, that city officials were “feeding” their line to media, or, in Weeks’s words, trying to “spin this story in the media over the past couple of months to take the focus off of them and place the focus on me.” None of Weeks’s or McDonald’s claims would have been known beyond the council chambers had local media not given them ample play.