For the last few weeks the world has been captivated, not quite gladly, by the enigma that is Vladimir Putin. For the last few months, Palm Coast and its 2014 elections have been held captive by the enigma that is Kimberle Weeks.
What appeared two weeks ago as a thaw between the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections and the city government may have been an illusion. Mayor Jon Netts had called a special meeting of the city council for Monday afternoon to discuss terms between the city and Weeks on the way Weeks will run the city’s primary and general elections this year. Two council seats are up.
But today, the city cancelled the meeting after Weeks sent an email to local media—but not to city officials—lambasting the city for setting the special meeting.
“No other city in the county discusses and negotiates their Interlocal Agreement with the Supervisor of Elections in a Workshop, and I will not entertain the practice of the City of Palm Coast doing so to allow the city [to] manipulate the requirements.,” Weeks wrote in her Sunday afternoon email. “The city must cooperate by being team players and fulfill what is required of them in order for the elections to be a success. The mayor was also reminded that the practice established is the very practice that the other municipalities follow and have followed, and there will be no exception for the City of Palm Coast.”
It was a puzzling email, suggesting that an interlocal agreement is, in fact, a one-way edict issued by the supervisor and commanding the city’s ratification, without amendments or discussion. But that’s not how interlocal agreements are reached. By definition, such agreements entail agreement to the terms therein from both sides. Both sides have free rein to add, delete or propose wording on the way to an agreement both sides can then sign off on.
There is no question that state law and the supervisor’s own procedures dictate how most of the municipal election may be conducted, and Palm Coast is not contesting many such terms. But it would be unusual for a city to sign off on an agreement without its own input, particularly given the nature of the proposed agreement Weeks submitted on March 17—an agreement that appears to make certain demands that exceed the supervisor’s authority, and infringe on Palm Coast’s.
The supervisor, for example, may request, but not demand, that the city place election information on the city’s website, in the city’s newsletter and in city utility billings—something the city would, under normal circumstances, likely and happily do, but not under a mandate to do so. The supervisor also demands that her office “shall be permitted, without cost, to immediately use any city owned or city managed facility that the supervisor deems to be adequate” if a polling location not managed by the city suddenly turns out to be unavailable. That’s the sort of open-ended demand that the city would have a difficult time approving, as it would expose city properties to potentially vastly disruptive changes at the supervisor’s whims.
The agreement also makes hectoring statements that appear out of place in such a document (“the city understands voters in the city will not receive preferential treatment, and will be treated the same as other voters throughout the county”). And it states that if the city were to make changes, Weeks reserves the right to run those changes by her attorneys—and bill the city for attorneys’ costs. That, too, is an unusually hostile maneuver between local government agencies, especially in this case.
Monday afternoon, the city issued a statement by way of its chief spokesperson, Cindi Lane, expressing dismay at the supervisor’s latest moves.
“The city has requested the supervisor to meet with the city clerk and city attorney several times to work out details of agreement, but she has declined,” the statement read. “The city then received the SOE’s proposed Interlocal Agreement at 2 p.m. March 17, and there simply wasn’t enough time for the City Council and city administration to read it, the city attorney to review it, and allow council members to ask questions and receive answers in time for the council meeting that began 9 a.m. March 18. In addition, the Interlocal Agreement was not on Council’s agenda for that meeting. The SOE was in attendance, and she could have addressed the City Council at the meeting if she’d wanted to do so.
“The City Council had hoped to discuss the Interlocal Agreement with the SOE at a public meeting. The Special Meeting was called for March 25 to give Council Members that opportunity and to meet the SOE’s deadline and get this behind us once and for all. Given that the Supervisor of Elections is unwilling to meet with the City Council on March 25, the City Council will consider the Interlocal Agreement at its next Business Meeting on April 1.”
But Weeks’s approach strongly suggests that the city has only two choices: to sign off on the agreement without any changes, something the city is not likely to do, or to go its own way to conduct the elections. Asked where the city was leaning regarding those choices, Lane could not answer. The decision, in any case, cannot be reached absent a meeting of the council. Meanwhile, Lane said, the matter is in the hands of the city attorney and the city clerk, who “are taking the lead on this.”
For months, Weeks and the city have tangled over details, wording, timelines and speculation about legal liabilities surrounding the 2011 municipal election and the coming elections in 2014. Weeks has provoked the tangles by raising questions about the way Palm Coast went about changing its election cycles from odd to even years. Palm Coast made minor errors along the way, but fixed them. None of the lawyers who reviewed the issues, including Weeks’s own—the attorney for the state association of supervisors of elections—the city’s, the county’s or the State Division of Elections saw any problems with Palm Coast’s resolution.
Weeks, however, insisted that none of the lawyers had cleared the city because none stated with certainty that the city—or the supervisor—were clear of legal liability. But no lawyer ever does: lawyers, like doctors, speak in terms of likelihood, and the likelihood that Palm Coast or the supervisor faced liabilities was reduced to insignificance. Still, Weeks was not satisfied.
But after receiving a long letter from the association attorney explaining that Palm Coast was in the clear, she agreed to draft an agreement—technically called an interlocal agreement, which entails the joint stipulations and endorsements of all parties to the agreement—setting out her willingness to conduct the 2014 elections for the city. Absent that agreement, the city would have been faced with the responsibility to run its own municipal elections.
And Palm Coast voters would have faced a very confusing situation at voting precincts: two parallel elections, one run by the city for its offices, and another run by the supervisor for county, state and federal offices. It would have damaged turn-out in an off-year election when turnout is already low, in a city where turn-out has been falling significantly over the past half dozen years.
Palm Coast voters may yet face just such a scenario.
Following are three unedited documents: the March 19 email from Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts to Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks; Weeks’s March 20 answer to Netts; and Weeks’s statement to media organizations, issued the afternoon March 23. Weeks’s proposed interlocal agreement appears below.
Mayor Jon Netts’s March 19 Email to Weeks
Good afternoon Ms. Weeks
I’d like to invite you to join with City Council at a special City Council business meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 25 at 1:00 p.m. at the Community Center.
With time running short, I’d like to be sure that all details are in place regarding the conduct of the 2014 City elections. This meeting will give us an opportunity to discuss an inter-local agreement between your office and the City of Palm Coast.
In order to insure that City Council members have adequate notice, please let me know if you are able to attend by noon on Thursday, March 20.
Thank you for your assistance.
SEO Weeks’s March 20 Answer to Netts
I would like to maintain consistency with how other Interlocal Agreements for election purposes have been handled in years past with the city of Palm Coast and the other municipalities in the county. The 2014 election Interlocal Agreement was presented to the City of Palm Coast in the same manner as it had been presented to the City of Palm Coast for past elections, and in the same manner it has presented to the other municipalities in the county. The Interlocal Agreement is in black and white, and believed to be very simplistic and easy to read and understand.
I issued the Interlocal Agreement to you and all the council members at the same time on the afternoon of March 17, 2014. It was possible for the Interlocal Agreement to have been reviewed by those it was sent to prior to the next scheduled city council meeting of March 18, 2014; in fact most persons provided me with a “read receipt” right away after the email was sent containing the Interlocal Agreement confirming they had opened the email I sent them. Because this email containing your Interlocal Agreement was sent well in advance of your last council meeting that took place on March 18th,, any questions could have been presented to me at that time as I personally attended the March 18th council meeting and made myself available. Unfortunately the topic of your city elections was never brought up by you or any council member, city manager or Mr. Reishcmann at the March 18th council meeting, and surely you all were mindful of it with having just receiving the email that contained the Interlocal Agreement, and seeing my presence. However, it was interesting that time was made at the end of the March 18th council meeting for the council to review graphics and hear of flooding on Bulldog Drive.
Kimberle B. Weeks
Weeks’s March 23 Statement to Media (Not Sent to City Officials)
MANIPULATION AND MICROMANAGEMENT BY THE CITY IS NOT NECESSARY
The City of Palm Coast has advertised to the media and on their website site that a special workshop is scheduled for March 25, 2014 at 1 pm for the council to discuss and negotiate the 2014 city elections Interlocal Agreement with the Supervisor of Elections. Such advertising has been done despite the fact that I, the Supervisor of Elections responded to the Mayor’s March 19th request for the special workshop on March 20th informing him that I will maintain consistency when entering into election related Interlocal Agreements with the city, and will continue to do business with the city of Palm Coast in the same fashion as business has been conducted with the city for past elections. No other city in the county discusses and negotiates their Interlocal Agreement with the Supervisor of Elections in a Workshop, and I will not entertain the practice of the City of Palm Coast doing so to allow the city manipulate the requirements. The city must cooperate by being team players and fulfill what is required of them in order for the elections to be a success. The mayor was also reminded that the practice established is the very practice that the other municipalities follow and have followed, and there will be no exception for the City of Palm Coast.
· The Interlocal Agreement was presented to the Mayor, City Council members, City Clerk Virginia Smith and City manager Jim Landon on the afternoon of March 17, 2014.
· Soon after the Interlocal Agreement was emailed, “read receipts” were received confirming the email went through successfully.
· The Interlocal Agreement is in black and white, and is very clear and simplistic and believed to be very easy to understand. It included language to protect the process of conducing “county” elections for all citizens of Flagler County. The city no longer has authority to decide if they want early voting or for how long, or if they want all polling locations open in the city, or just six as they had done in 2011. County-wide elections, as are scheduled in 2014, and I will make decisions as to what will best serve all voters throughout the county. The city must realize and understand the elections in 2014, are not just about the city, and it isn’t required that the city’s ballot items be placed on the county ballot; regardless of what they put on a ballot in 2011 to change their election cycle, or whatever their charter language reads. The city will not be permitted to manipulate and control county-wide elections.
· I attended the City Council meeting on March 18, 2014, and my presence was observed by the city mayor, city councilmen, city manager and city attorney. My presence allowed for the city elected officials to bring up the topic of elections, yet the topic of elections did not take place during this meeting, therefore it did not appear there were any questions regarding the Interlocal Agreement that was previously issued to mayor and councilmen. The mayor and city council did however extend themselves to view pictures of flooding on Bulldog Drive at the end of their meeting.
· Entering into an Election Interlocal Agreement is not a new experience for the city.
· The City has no experience in conducting elections, and is not in a position to negotiate something they have no experience doing or that they have limited knowledge about. I am responsible for carrying out elections, and I must put into place an Interlocal Agreement that would allow me to fulfill my duties and responsibilities successfully without being micromanaged and manipulated.
· Election procedures have already been established, and Florida Statutes, Chapter 97-106 must be followed leaving no need for negotiating.
· Following the 2011 city elections the city had difficulty meeting the requirements of Section 10 (General Provisions) of their city charter, and modifying the language within their city charter (Section 8) relating to elections to make the charter language consistent with current practices and procedures as to how countywide elections are conducted, that’s why in late January 2014 they were adopting ordinances and making them retroactive to 2011. The language within their charter should be clear and when the public views their charter they should have confidence that the charter is indeed being followed. The city must realize that the elections that are held in August 26th and November 4th 2014 they are not city specific, they are county elections, and the city shall not be permitted to micromanage, manipulate the process, or insert outside interference.
· As Supervisor of Elections I have experience conducting many successful elections here in Flagler County; including elections for the City of Palm Coast as well as county-wide elections for all the voters of the County. I do not need the City of Palm Coast to negotiate with me as to what I need to do, how I need to do it, or when I need to do it. The city either wants the assistance of the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Office to carry out their city election, or they don’t, it’s up to them.
· Perhaps the City is uncomfortable with the provisions in the Interlocal Agreement that were put into place to protect myself, my staff, the County and the other jurisdictions that are not city tax payers should a challenge be filed or should additional expenses be incurred by the city due to the city’s ballot items being placed on the ballot extending the ballot cost. However, it was the City who chose not to be cooperative and who refused to take suggested measures to possibly protect the tax payers of the city from costly court challenges by refusing to request the Attorney General Formal Opinion confirming the city met all requirements following the 2011 elections to modify their city charter to know it would be legal for the city to hold elections in 2014, and even numbered years thereafter. The city must accept responsibility for what they did or did not do. If they are indeed confident they met all requirements following the 2011 elections they should have no concerns, and there should be no reservations with the city entering into the Interlocal Agreement I presented to them on March 17, 2014.
· I will be going to Tallahassee on March 24th and will not be attending a workshop in Palm Coast that mayor Netts called on March 19th for March 25 at 1 p.m. I responded to Mayor Jon Netts invitation on March 20th.
· I will continue to provide the same quality service to the citizens of Flagler County when conducting their election in 2014 as I have provided in past elections. I am hopeful the city will become cooperative and will enter into the presented Interlocal Agreement to conduct elections for them in 2014. This will allow the voters to have confidence in their city elections in 2014 being fair and honest, and they can have the convenience of voting for city and county measures at one polling location.
If the city does not cooperate, and does not enter into the proposed Interlocal Agreement I presented to them on March 17th, it may be that the city has other objectives of wanting to conduct their own election so they can create voter confusion, and control the outcome of their city election. Voter panic and confusion has already been created after the media recently reported that voters may have to go to more than one polling location in 2014 in order to vote in the county election and the city election if the city does not include their election on the county ballot.
The City knew as of Thursday, March 20, 2014, that there was not going to be an exception for them to hold a workshop on March 25th at 1 p.m. to negotiate the Interlocal Agreement, and yet they advertised this on their website anyway, which again is another example of the City misleading its citizens and creating confusion by manipulation.
Bottom line is, we are not required to conduct the city election, but we are ready, willing and able to do so. I feel it would be in the best interest to the city officials and the citizens of the city if we conducted their election, and we hope the city will be cooperative and enter into the proposed Interlocal Agreement to conduct the City of Palm Coast elections in 2014 so we can move forward.