The only higher official who hasn’t yet told Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks to move beyond her feud with the Palm Coast City Council over the city’s 2014 elections is Gov. Rick Scott.
On Friday, it was Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s turn. He reminded Weeks that he is “the chief elections officer of the state” before telling her what a slew of local and state attorneys, including Weeks’s own, have been telling her for months: The legal proprieties of Palm Coast’s elections are not her business. Running a fair and smooth election is. Detzner is worried that Weeks is jeopardizing that requirement if she decides not to run the municipal elections, forcing Palm Coast to run them on its own, parallel to county and state elections. That would likely confuse voters already disinclined to vote in off-year elections, further hurting turnout.
“I am concerned about the disruption that a separate city election held concurrently with a state and county election would cause,” Detzner wrote in his March 28 letter to Weeks. “My understanding is that the Flagler County Attorney, the Palm Coast City Attorney, and the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections’ General Counsel have provided opinions that should adequately address your concerns.” Detzner did not mention his office’s own attorney, who also provided a similar opinion to Weeks. “Any issue about the propriety of the city’s actions in changing its election and qualifying dates is solely the city’s concern.”
For all that, Weeks immediately rejected Detzner’s counsel, again reasserting the conditions she placed before Palm Coast: she wants the city to sign off on the “agreement” she drafted, without changes.
In a letter back to Detzner remarkable as much for its obstinacy as for its disingenuous reasoning, Weeks—who has been running up the city’s county’s and state’s legal bills at taxpayers’ expense—claimed again that “if a court challenge is filed, the tax payers will be responsible for the bill, a bill I have made every attempt to avoid.” She then said she had provided Palm Coast with an agreement that Palm Coast is choosing not to sign.
“Instead,” Weeks wrote, “the city attempted to change practices by entertaining a public event and discuss the proposed interlocal agreement, and this invitation was declined. This has not been the practice established in the past, nor the practice that is exercised by any of the other minicipalities.”
Weeks is wrong, and shows a striking lack of understanding of how local government boards operate. All such agreements are public. They have to be. All such agreements are submitted to respective local governments for their public discussion, if they choose to discuss them, amend them, reject them or accept them whole. Most of the time the agreements make no ripple because they are routine, they are worked out administratively and routinely approved—in public meetings—without discussion.
Palm Coast was prepared to devote a special meeting to discuss the agreement Weeks submitted because the agreement was not routine. It was a lengthy, hectoring and arbitrary documents that in several instances made demands on the city that exceeded the supervisor’s authority while potentially giving the supervisor a blank authority on the use of city facilities—a can of worms Weeks was slyly reopening through the agreement, though that matter had been settled, after much acrimony, mostly in her favor in the fall.
Palm Coast is not—and, legally, likely cannot—sign off on the agreement Weeks submitted without establishing a precedent that places the supervisor in an administrative role more powerful than the city’s, when it comes to municipal elections. Weeks misunderstands the supervisor’s role in that regard as well: She is by law authorized to run elections, including municipal elections if local cities request the service, but the law gives her no authority to infringe on a city’s operations absent that city’s explicit concurrence.
In fact, Palm Coast had not ruled out signing off on the agreement Weeks had submitted: that was the point of its special meeting. But because of the agreement’s outlying clauses, the city wasn’t going to do so without some negotiating and compromising, which it would have had to do publicly (since Weeks was refusing to negotiate the agreement with the administration first, before it was brought to the council). That’s the “public event” Weeks was ridiculing as “public drama,” and the “invitation” she says she declined.
The city council has drafted its own agreement with Weeks. It’ll take it up at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday evening, starting at 6:30 p.m. The agreement Palm Coast is willing to sign is essentially the same agreement Weeks signed with Flagler Beach, with a few changes to make it applicable to Palm Coast.
“We’re waiting for the supervisor of elections to be a team player,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said last week. “I’ll happily sign whatever agreement that Bunnell has signed or Flagler Beach has signed.”
That’s virtually word for word what the secretary of state told Weeks to do: “Your arrangement with the city of Palm Coast for conducting its elections should be the same for conducting other city elections in Flagler County held in conjunction with the 2014 primary and general elections,” Detzner wrote.
“Apparently we have two choices as time goes short, either accept her offer as it stands or we respond with a counter offer,” Netts said. “If her contention is that Palm Coast ought not get any special treatment and she wants to treat us like everybody else, that’s fine with me, I’ll sign it in a heartbeat.”
Netts said the city is also willing to sign a separate agreement holding Weeks and her office harmless in case a lawsuit were to result from the 2014 contests—a very unlikely possibility, since the feud between the city and the supervisor has been driven entirely by the supervisor, with virtually no public involvement or much concern over the controversy. The controversy, largely manufactured by Weeks, has appealed to a fringe group of tea party type activists who see a conspiracy behind every city eyelash. Beyond that, voters and residents have yawned, and most are unlikely to know what the issue is about.
In sum, the city is acceding to all the supervisor’s demands as they relate to the conduct of the election and the legal protection she is seeking. But she appears unwilling to give in. The deadline she set is April 2.
That doesn’t mean she won’t give in: on previous occasions, as when Weeks held out against the city over what rooms the city was willing to lend her for early voting, Weeks held out until the council made it clear that it would not go beyond the compromise it had offered. Then Weeks said she would go along with the city’s proposal, saying she did not want to risk jeopardizing voters’ convenience.
Voters’ convenience is precisely what Weeks is jeopardizing, on a larger scale, with her latest display of brinkmanship.
Shortly before 1 p.m. Monday, Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks sent the following reply to FlaglerLive’s article:
The Secretary shared his concerns, and I completely agree with his concerns and hope the city of Palm Coast does as well. If there is any voter confusion created, it is their fault for not allowing the elecitons to all take place at the same time. It doesn’t have to be that way, but ultimatly it is in their hands. You are very biased in your reporting and apparently don’t seem to care if the city charter and laws are followed. Explain to me how would you prepare an interloal agreement if the language in the charter differed from the current laws, practices and procedures and all were to be blended together? For months the Division of Elections has been telling me to work it out with the city, and unfortuanly the city hasn’t been willing to work anything out. The Secretary of State was being kind to not reveal the city reached out to him in an email asking for his involvement. The city was trying to go over my head to avoid following requirements of entering into the interlocal agreement for election services.
The letter below states in the second to last paragraph that the arrangements with the City of Palm Coast for conducting its elections should be the same for conducting other city elecitons in Flagler County held in conjunction with the 2014 primary and general elections, and they are…..Palm Coast is the only only city to be holding their eleciton in conjunction with the 2014 primary and gerneral elecitons. With this being said, Palm Coast should not expect their interlocal agremement to be the same as any other municipalities interlocal agreement, or for any other previous interlocal agreement they have entered. Interlocal agreements are subject to change from electon to election. What I have presented to the City of Palm Coast is exactly what the Secretary suggests.
In the second paragraph the Secretary states that any issues about the propriety of the city’s actions in changing its election and qualifying dates is soely the city’s concern. And as Supervisor of Election’s when administering a city election, my responsibility is to conduct an election in an accessible, fair and efficient manner. I completely agree with the Secretary, and therefore have agreed to implement language in the interlocal agreeement making the city fully responsible for the city’s actions in changing its election and qualify dates. As I have stated since bringing charter matters to the attention to the city, it is not my responsibility to ensure the city follows requirements to moify their city charter. I am required to follow the Florida election laws and the City Charter when administering a city election, and based on the language that existed on the city’s website pertaining to their city charter when I begain to prepare their interlocal agremement it was impossible to prepare an interlocal agreement that would allow me to follow their city charter and Florida eleciton laws, and current practices and procedures. I have, and always will conduct elections in an accessible, fair and efficient manner as the Secretary recogonizes as my responsibility, and to ensure the city’s cooperation provisions were put into place to gain the city’s support. It is unfortunate the city has a history of removing voting precinct directional sings placed to for the voters conveneince on eleciton day, removing signs making voters aware of a school board special election taking place, being resistant in proving what would be best for voters convenience to expand early voting in Palm Coast last fall without months of unnecessary dialogue, and placing price tags on nearly everything this office has asked their cooperation in to making voting more efficient to their efforts to restrict voter awareness, convenience and accessibility. Due to the city’s unwillingness to be team players and being insensitive to the voters needs measures must be in place to ensure their cooperation within the interlocal agreement for the voters beneifit to prevent minipulation and micromanagement to prevent the risk of voters being disconneted and confused.
It is hoped the city will enter into the proosed interlocal agreement that is specific to the only municipality that is holding a city election in conjuction with the county 2014 primary and general elections as the City Clerk estimates it will cost in excess of $120,000 for the city to conduct its own election, and they so the voters will not be faced with the city who has no experience conducting their own election for more than 50,000 voters which would create voter confusion, and risk voters confidence in the outcome of the eleciton results being minipulated. There is no excuse for the city to not cooperate with the Supervsior of Elections unless they do in fact have a hidden agenda, and intend to confuse the voters, which is what concerns the Secretary of State and I. If the city should choose to not enter into the proposed interlocal agreement they would be incurring unnecessary expenses for the city which would be unfortunate to the tax payers of the city, and they risk being unable to carry out the responsibilty of carrying out conducting an election for the voters in their city. The voters can however, have confidence in the Supervisor of Elections Office conducting fair, honest elections.
What is interesting is I have reached out to the Division of Elections many times over the past many months regarding the issues with the conflicts with the Palm Coast City charter before the City adopted ordinances making them retroactive to 2011, and the state repeatedly stated that I was to work the issues out with the City as the State had no jurisdiction over the municipal charter. It has been reported in the media over the past months that the “Department of Elections and Attorney General ” confirmed the City properly modifyed their city charter in 2011, but the Secrectary did not make that claim in his letter dated March 28th. He simply placed the responsibility on the city to defend their city charter, and what has taken place. Why all the sudden has the support chain changed and not included all the support of what the city has claimed to date to include the Attorney General and the Department of Elections? Until something other than an opinion is produced, it isn’t confirmed that the city did in fact meet all requiremetns to modify their city charter following the 2011 city elections, and like Secretary Detzner and my legal council stated stated, that is up to the City to defend if suit is filed. I know I have done all that I could do to prevent a costly court challenge, and to confirm the election held for the city would be a legal election. I look forward to a successfully serving the voters in 2014.