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Kimberle Weeks Calls County’s Campaign Sign Rules “Interference”; Administrator Craig Coffey Responds

| August 12, 2014

They must have clocked out before closing time. (c FlaglerLive)

They must have clocked out before closing time. (c FlaglerLive)

Note: Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Week asked to respond to the Aug. 5 article on her appearance before the County Commission regarding campaign signs. Weeks asked that her response run “in its entirety.” FlaglerLive does not run unedited copy. Weeks’s response has been edited for such things as style, grammar and redundancies. County Administrator Craig Coffey was invited to respond. His briefer response is included below. The links were added by FlaglerLive.

By Kimberle Weeks

County Administrator Craig Coffey came to the elections office the morning of Aug. 1 regarding the closing County Road 305 being scheduled 12 days prior to the Aug. 26 primary election. The closing was rescheduled to August 27.  During Coffey’s visit I had a few other matters I wished to discuss with him, one being the danger, hostility, and parking issues at the Palm Coast Public Library early voting site, which seems to generate more and more complaints each election.

Most of our conversation regarding this topic took place in the lobby of the elections office in the presence of SOE staff.   Coffey made the statement several times that the sign rules are is in place because “they want them to work for it.”  This is somewhat concerning since anyone can affirm that an incumbent candidate would most likely be better known and have numerous people to call upon to camp at the library and hold a sign or pass out literature. A newcomer or someone who hasn’t held public office before would be at a disadvantage and be restricted.

Therefore, I believe Coffey’s statement and current practices would be unfair. They generate other problems and concerns which I believe could impact the outcome of elections.  This concerns me, as all elections should be fair, and if the county rules are is in place for that purpose, then all the other claims Coffey made publicly during the County Commission meeting on Aug. 4 were made out of desperation or to cover up his previous statement.

County Administrator Craig Coffey Responds:

Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks has made many lengthy points concerning her recent request to have the County Commission allow election candidates to install signs on public property, particularly at the County Library in Palm Coast. The simple response is that this request is coming to the County Commission at literally the eleventh hour and, further, assumes that by allowing candidates and their followers to install more signs, their aggressiveness toward citizens voting at the Library will somehow be reduced. Due to the high emotion in political campaigns, that is overly optimistic.

Craig Coffey (© FlaglerLive)

Craig Coffey (© FlaglerLive)

Early voting started Monday, Aug. 11. The problems of overly aggressive candidates and campaign workers existed at the last two elections over which Weeks presided. The community would have been better served on this issue if Weeks had presented her request following the last election. This would have allowed more time and a fuller discussion to effectively address any problems. The only certain outcomes of changing the sign rules now would be to increase the visual pollution at the Library and to increase the county’s liability exposure for injuries that may occur because non-governmental people are now allowed to place their signs on our property.

With the input offered by Weeks and others last Monday, the County Commission chose not to change its policy prohibiting political signs on public property. Its decision is consistent with Flagler County’s ordinance on political signs which has been on the books since 1995. The ordinance has not allowed political signs in the right of way or on any public property. Public property is owned by all the residents in the County and should be kept neutral during campaigns.

In addition, every candidate that puts up signs in the county has signed a form agreeing to erect political signs in accordance with the county permit requirements (see paragraph 3 specifically). These are the same election signage restrictions that have been used for many elections by candidates for all political races, including candidates for supervisor of elections.

Regardless, there is an ordinance of the City of Palm Coast that does not allow campaign signs on public property. For anyone’s reference, that is contained in Section 12.06.03 of the City Code (look it up here). As a matter of intergovernmental respect, the county would not want the appearance of any of its properties in the city to be inconsistent with the city’s ordinance.

Weeks mentioned several times a state statute the county is supposedly violating, section 106.1435. This statute does not limit or even address our right to control what people put on the county's property. It primarily deals with political campaign advertisements that include flyers and other forms of campaign promotion. It allows, among other things, local government to charge candidates for the cost of removing certain of their advertising material if the candidate has failed to remove them within 30 days after an election. The county attorney has assured me that this statute does not limit or preempt the county’s authority over its own property.

Ultimately, I do respect Weeks’ right to express her opinions, but on this matter I disagree in my capacity as the administrator and manager of the county’s property. However, as always my staff and I will continue to work with Weeks to the best of our ability to provide a safe and successful election.

 --Craig Coffey

Florida Statutes 106.1435(5) does not preclude municipalities from imposing additional or more stringent requirements on the usage and removal of political campaign advertisements.  However, this statute does not specifically give the county this same authority. Therefore in my opinion, the county should rely on the Florida Statutes, and not on Flagler County Land Development Code or the Flagler County Political Signs Registration to regulate political campaign signs.  (See the county’s ordinance to the right.)

The law (Florida Statute 106.1435(3) does state that signs are not permitted on state right of way, but it doesn’t mention other property. There is a distinct difference between the “right-of-way” the “property” itself, and there is a distinct difference between state property and county property.  This is where I believe to have fair elections, we need to rely on state laws in place, and interference by the county should not be permitted as it may give an advantage to one candidate over another and may create an unpleasant and dangerous environment.

The county is interfering with elections and making them unfair when they require candidates to sign a “Political Signs Registration,” which prohibits Political Signs from being placed on or over any public property or public right of way.” That is not in accordance with Florida Statute 106.1435(3).  Anyone else who chooses to hold a sign is not required to file a “Political Signs Registration” with the county, and such registration may give one candidate an advantage over another as was explained above, and would allow anyone who has not filed the registration to exercise their right and place a sign on or over public property.

When the county interferes and their involvement prevents voters being able to conveniently access a polling location without fear or intimidation to cast their vote due to a rule they imposed, a voter may decide not to vote.  When a voter is unable to find a parking spot at an early voting location because the parking lot is filled with candidates, supporters’ cars they may choose not to vote. Lost votes could impact the outcome of an election.

I believe many persons would be content with being able to place their sign at the polling location and go on their way. But because they fear or know they can’t do so, they either themselves camp at the early voting site, or have supporters who will do so for them. Regardless, the candidates are going to get their name out there, and not be restricted.    The county currently has rules in place that are selectively enforced.  Our tax dollars could be and should be better spent on ways other than policing campaign signs, knowing that the law  has established provisions on the removal of political campaign signs, and campaign signs are part of the political process in this country.

It is logical, since citizens rights’ cannot be taken from them, to allow campaign signs to be erected so supporters do not fill the early voting parking lot with their vehicles, and the grounds are not filled with chairs and clutter damaging the landscape. People camping at the early voting sites use the restrooms and go in the library for air conditioning, which is an expense to the county, and creates a disturbance to library patrons throughout the day. I have seen a tremendous increase of campers at early voting sites over the past six years, and each election I receive more and more complaints and the environment appears to have become more hostile.

The county has language in Article 7 of the Flagler County Land Development Code (elections are not part of land development, so it is unclear why elections are in this section)  pertaining to the removal of campaign signs, which is not in agreement with Florida Statute 106.1435 which candidates are required to follow. In fact candidates all are required to complete and file a “Statement of Candidate” form with the Supervisor of Elections as part of their qualifying paperwork confirming they have been provided, read and understand chapter 106 of the Florida Statues.

State law states that each candidate, whether for federal, state, county, or district office, shall make a good faith effort to remove all of his or her political campaign advertisements within 30 days after a candidate withdraws, is eliminated or elected to office. The Flagler County Article 7 Land Development Code and Flagler County Political Signs Registration both state that all political signs shall be removed within 15 days after a candidate’s withdrawal, elimination or election.

The county and voters would be best served if state laws were followed, and the county didn’t take it upon itself to make its own rules.  After all, laws are made to be followed, and the county administrator and County Commission are not above the law.

FlaglerLive also did not state in the Aug. 5 article how many times as a constitutional officer I have asked to be placed on the County Commission agenda, and how many times my request was refused by the Coffey.

“It is logical to allow campaign signs to be erected so supporters do not fill the early voting parking lot with their vehicles, and the grounds are not filled with chairs and clutter damaging the landscape.”
–Kimberle Weeks

Because this issue was discussed with Coffey on Aug. 1 and the next commission meeting was scheduled for Aug. 4, I didn’t feel there was enough time to have it placed on the agenda, so Coffey was advised on Aug. 1 that I would be bringing it before the commission, which explains why he was prepared with his drafted memo in response. It was necessary to address the matter on Aug. 4 as early voting was starting on Aug. 11.

The County Administrator Craig Coffey is grasping at straws when he made the statement in regards to damage by the placement of signs. He provided no evidence of such damage ever reported or paid for. Signs the county places on county owned property (with post hole diggers) do more damage than the wires candidates use to place campaign signs at polling locations, and yes, we the tax payers pay for the damage and the supplies and signs the county creates when erecting their signs. The sign pollution is there whether the sign is solely placed on the property or if the sign is on the property with a camper physically accompanying the sign.   There is no other event as or more important as voting. Yet the County Attorney Al Hadeed’s opinion is “there a world of difference between a governmental message and a message from a private person” is simply that, his opinion.  If not, he should have cited state law to support his claim.

To set the record straight I am not part of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Flagler County, nor do I attend their meetings or meet with them in any way, nor am I aligned with Dennis Mc Donald, Mark Richter or any other candidate, whether they are a Republican, No Party Affiliation, or Democrat. It is strictly the opinion and not the truth or fact of FlaglerLive and others to claim that I am aligned with any group, club or candidate.

In fact I filed a complaint against the RRRA with the state in the past and they were fined as a result.  Fines also have been imposed against Democratic clubs. I treat everyone with honesty and fairness.  I am a registered Democrat and have not changed my part affiliation before book- closing to vote on the county commission races, so I will not be voting for a county commissioner until the general election in November.  What I am aligned with is doing what I can to make voting convenient and fair.  I listen to the people who elected me and do what I can to improve the process.  I am employed by them, and I work for them.  If persons choose to support my views and efforts, that is welcomed and appreciated.  I certainly didn’t get re-elected in 2012 by the largest margin on the ballot by all Democratic voters.

I am non partisan serving as the Supervisor of Elections, so I would expect that there would be Republicans like Dennis McDonald and Mark Richter and Independents like Denise Calderwood who would publicly support my efforts and views and they would probably be the first ones to also speak up against my efforts if they felt my efforts were biased in anyway.   I have an open door policy and make time for anyone who requests to speak with me.

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11 Responses for “Kimberle Weeks Calls County’s Campaign Sign Rules “Interference”; Administrator Craig Coffey Responds”

  1. m&m says:

    I don’t trust either one of them..

  2. Genie says:

    I noticed the County did something different for this election by reserving all the parking spaces at the front of the buildings for voters, which is a nice idea. But what it actually did, and I’m certain this was not accidental, was push the campaign helpers, candidates and signs further out away from the polls. In my view, this helps the incumbents and makes it harder for challengers. I heard this was Mr. Coffey’s idea, is this true? And incidentally, it also forced the patrons of the Community Center and the Library to have to park the farthest out.

    However, along this same vein, I also noticed that Incumbents are not marked as Incumbents on the ballots, so if you are voting for the first time here, you will not necessarily know who the incumbents are.

    Pretty great city/county to run in if you are an incumbent. You get all kinds of help from unelected people like Mr. Coffey who has a deciding interest in keeping the incumbents in office.

    Could this be part of the reason people here don’t vote?

  3. Lin says:

    And around and around we go

    I was at the library today for the puppet show with grandchildren
    Yes, parking was more difficult but spaces were marked off for early voters & they were available
    Yes, the candidates & their supporters were abundant and they did engage and speak to me as I walked by asking if I were voting and handed out cards — interesting was that one card had all the RRR candidates together and the other one the 2 shall I call them “regular” republicans on it
    Signs on cars showed the RRR people names together

    There was no danger and I thought it was a good opportunity to speak to candidates but I can understand it could be annoying to some people. I actually felt safer than sometimes when alone in the parking lot with some characters around

    On the other hand, I do think that Ms Weeks should not be trying to secure the “fairness” for non- incumbents”. Not In her job description. Funny, I heard the same issue brought up by someone trying to explain to me why the Hilton was selected over the larger Taj Mahal — to prevent the incumbents from having an advantage.

    Signs seem to have gotten bigger this year.

    • Will says:

      Lin, you’re saying then that the “RRR” cards had all their people on them?

      Were they lumping together people in non-partisan and partisan races on one card?

      May not be illegal, but seems to me to make a mockery of the non-partisan effort for certain races.

  4. Sue Dickinson says:

    I just wish that the SIGN rues whatever they are were enforced for everyone no matter what office they are seeking. Whether it be City, County, State, or National elections. It seems to me that in the past the rules change depending on who and at what office you are running for. Keep it equal and fair for all.

  5. Diana L says:

    Political signs are obnoxious and obtrusive. Having an army of supporters at polling places, blocking access and acting like vultures does nothing but harm the voting experience. Give it a break and let us vote without all this BS.

  6. confidential says:

    Very clearly explained by SOE Mrs. Weeks regarding the denial of the county manger and FCBOCC to candidates and supporters to place their signs in our public County Library grounds on election day avoiding in this manner an overcrowded already limited parking area with the addition of camps of candidates and supporters holding signs so they are not taken away by the county inspectors. Is also shameful and part of the perpetual witch hunt against her, that she is by some, intended to be portrayed as partisan to the contrary of her real character and investiture
    Is not the first time that I see our county officials including the legal team bending the rules to benefit the few. Just remembering that county and same legal advise, bended the rules back when we had the first right of refusal to buy our water utility company from ITT in the mid nineties for about 14 to 20 million and was advised not to mess with the Florida Water legal team that intended to buy it out to. So with total idiocy county let it go as Palm Coast served by the utility was still unincorporated and had no say. Then about fewer than 8 years later once incorporated we, Palm Coast had to pay upwards 89 million for it and on top of it had to wrestle the county that shockingly wanted it too besides the other interested panhandle Wall Street funded cities. Maybe that is why then recently county bought out the decrepit Plantation Bay overpriced utility from Developer Hoisseini using city of Bunnell credit available as county has its credit exhausted and now Bunnell is on bankruptcy over its share of millions to fund that purchase and the creation of a waste water department to serve it.
    Mrs. Weeks is just doing her work defending the rights of voters and candidates on the elections process that every year she conducts flawless and other than make her blank of ridiculous accusations she should be supported and respected as we the people elected her by over 61% of the electorate. Lets do not give in to malicious distortions of real facts.

  7. Toni Baker, Candidate for School Board says:

    Well, I’m invested, somewhat in this discussion, only in as much as I don’t have any signs except the home made ones that a lovely lady named Sheila and 4 children who are attending Indian Trails Middle School helped me make! I do know, that being at the library yesterday, turned a non-voter into a voter.

    I had four enthusiastic 11 – 13 year olds holding my homemade signs and loving every minute of it.!!! Unfortunately, rude and terrible people driving by were holding money out of the their car windows and asking them “how much do you cost”. I have also seen the finger flipped more than once at these beautiful children. When did this community become so hateful? I’ve been told, get them ready for this. It’s just so sad. I have to work very hard to get my name out! To get my message out. I think everyone is doing what they think is right. “It is what it is”……

    • Diana L says:

      When did this community/country become so hateful? In my opinion, when the Tea Party reared its ugly head and started spewing their hate and misinformation.

  8. Tired of all the signs says:

    I didn’t know SOE Weeks was a fan of classical literature. In Shakespeare’s
    Act III, Scene II Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude states, “The lady doth
    protest too much me thinks” and I can’t help feel the tug of irony here.
    During the last election, Kim Weeks was the biggest violator of sign
    ordinances in the county (next to the previous runner up, John Goode during
    the mayoral election some years back). Goode had signs in the City Right of
    Way, up and down Belle Terre Parkway by the hundreds or so it seemed. Next
    to black and yellow sandwich boards, SOE Week’s favorite tactic was to find
    closed down businesses, like the bank next to Ameris Bank on Cypress Point
    Parkway (the old World Bank), and load them up with signs knowing that being
    in foreclosure, no one would bother to have them removed. Her other
    favorite haunt was vacant property. The RRRs follow in her footsteps as I
    doubt the successors to the Ginn property at Matanzas Woods Parkway and Old
    Kings road gave them permission to put their trash up there. But there’s
    more fun on this. For somebody protesting to not be associated with the
    Ronald Reagans (RRRAs), isn’t it interesting that the current violator
    trespassing on private property at her old favorite location (World Bank) is
    Mark Richter, a Ronald Reagan (RRRA) candidate, following in the footsteps
    of their current savior supervisor Weeks.

    Wonder where he got the idea? She is routinely in meetings with that
    McDonald guy and other RRRAs while denying it here to the public. Everybody
    at the GSB knows it, we just keep quiet.

    One other point. Somebody please tell me why the city allows this sign
    pollution crap to continue? Private property use is allowed with
    permission. Public property is not.

    And “Confidential”, your understanding of the Plantation Bay issue is lame.
    We in Plantation Bay at least know that the agreement for the purchase of
    the Plantation Bay Utility is not a cost passed onto county tax payers. How
    do we know? It resulted in a substantial rate increase to those of us who
    use it. They call it an Enterprise Fund and you’re playing politics with
    bad facts. Didn’t you get the memo?

  9. Repellent says:

    Leave the signs alone and the the process takes it course. The signs generate jobs and put money back into the economy, The local sign businesses love election time because this is how they make their living. The City and the County should not be making up rules as they go….just rely on the ones that have been made by our Legislators.

    If other candidates are following Weeks way of campaigning then she must be a good leader. The SOE can’t control who shows up at public meetings, I rarely see the SOE at meetings, unless there is something she has to say. Candidates must frequently visit the SOE office, so I’m sure the SOE sees all candidates quite often throughout their campaigns, including Mc Donald. If the SOE was trying to hide something she probably wouldn’t be meeting anyone at the SOE office. With this being said it sounds like “Tired of the Signs” just has an ax to grind and is posting an opinion rather than fact.

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