What could and normally would have been the last and most routine meeting of the Flagler County Canvassing Board this morning turned into yet another broil of contention as the board decided to meet again on Sept. 12 to try to resolve issues raised by Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks. The board hopes to ward off a repeat of the clashes between Weeks and local governments that turned into a persistent background noise to the primary election.
Weeks has been angry at Palm Coast’s city administration for not letting her rule the parking lot at the Palm Coast Community Center with the sort of fiat she does the interior of voting precincts: she roped off for voter parking more spaces than the city thought necessary, and illegally added signage to handicapped parking spaces, prompting the city to remove the signage, since it’s city property. The Canvassing Board assigned its attorney, Al Hadeed—who is also the county attorney—to mediate the dispute with the city.
Weeks was not satisfied. “It was really not much value for us even at that,” Weeks said today of the mediated resolution Hadeed worked out before Election Day. “He had stated it was only for the primary election, so we’re no further ahead for the general than we were for the primary. I anticipate having the same challenges in the general, and I don’t want to wait until we’re days or 26 hours away from having an election and then doing the same thing again.”
The issues are minor, if they are issues at all: how many regular and handicapped parking spaces are to be reserved during early voting and on Election Day at the Community Center, and who makes those decisions. Such issues have never raised a problem in previous elections, at least on Election Day, even when the city continued to use the center for non-election related activities. The council, for example, has held meetings there on Election Day, seamlessly with concurrent election activities. Weeks wants all non-election related activities there scrapped on Election Day, and limited during early voting. The city has so far considered those demands unreasonable and unnecessary, given the very light turnout, but at a recent council meeting one council member proposed making golf carts available to any voter who feels that parking a few dozen feet away from the entrance would be too long a walk.
Weeks’s claims aside, there were no complaints from voters about not having adequate parking. Anywhere. And on Election Day, voting precincts tangle with very busy school parking lots and other community type buildings where parking issues are seldom heard of, even on high turnout occasions as the 2012 election.
But Weeks objected not only to Hadeed’s primary-election resolution, which was supposed to be a blueprint for a more permanent resolution, but to procedures. She complained of not getting anything to sign off on. “I don’t even feel like it was even handled the way it was said to have supposed to have taken place, was my point,” Weeks said.
“When we had the conversation about how it was going to take place,” Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, who chairs the Canvassing Board, said, “we didn’t know Mr. Landon was going to be out of the state with a death in the family, so I think that kind of threw a monkey wrench into what we had hoped would take place.”
Weeks then reverted to claiming that the city was violating an agreement it had signed with Weeks prior to the election, where the city agreed not to remove any signage from the community center other than candidates’ campaign signs.
“Madame secretary,” Hadeed said, “there is no way that they could have anticipated that you would have put signage on designated ADA parking spaces. That language does not give you a license, an authorization, to do something that violates some other standard. Plus, I doubt that they understood how you were going to demarcate or attempt to demarcate property for parking for voters. I actually do not recall, and it may have happened in previous elections, but I don’t recall except on election day, that during early voting we roped off large amounts of area for parking.” He described the use of the Community Center as a learning curve for all, but one that can be worked out “through some sort of consensual, mediated process.”
“It’s not just a handicapped parking issue,” Weeks continued. Wielding exhibit-style pictures she said she herself took, she then contended that the county was confusedly identifying visitor parking spaces at the Government Services Building, then pointed to a sidewalk problem there that should be fixed.
Moore-Stens quickly informed her the issues were not within the scope of the Canvassing Board’s responsibilities.
“I suggest,” Hadeed said, “if there’s some presenting problem out there that you noticed or that someone else brought to your attention, I suggest that you meet with the county administrator with it, and just explain, showing him, or whoever he sends, relative to that issue.”
Weeks then directed Charlie Ericksen, the county commissioner and member of the Canvassing Board who was sitting in for Commissioner George Hanns, to have the commission follow-up on her request.
Canvassing Board members agreed to meet again on Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m. at the supervisor’s Canvassing Board conference room to resolve what issues remain un-addressed—and to deal with the board’s minutes.
That, too, became an issue.
Minutes are seldom a matter of discussion on local government boards, or even of much interest, beyond the cursory summaries of deliberations they provide. Local government board members examine them, at times make minor, uncontested changes—a word here, a nuance there—and always vote to approve them, usually with unanimity.
Weeks’s minutes are a different story. She records Canvassing Board meetings on her mobile phone (thus creating a public record that must be turned over upon request by any member of government or the public) , and spends long hours compiling epic-size minutes that can add up, for each meeting, to a dozen single-spaced typed pages. The minutes are not verbatim transcriptions of the meetings, but carefully paraphrased interpretations by Weeks of Weeks’s version of the meetings. Somehow, Weeks managed to compose such minutes for the numerous meetings that took place over the weeks preceding and the days immediately following the election.
She would not let the Canvassing Board members approve the minutes, as all government boards do.
“The board decides whether there’s going to be approval of minutes. That’s the board’s decision,” Hadeed said.
“My position has always been I’m not in favor of approving minutes,” Weeks said. “I’m in favor of making any necessary changes, of any inaccurate information or adding anything they have forgotten, but not to approve them, because then I feel that that allows the minutes to be manipulated.”
“The approval process allows them to be manipulated?” an incredulous Hadeed asked.
“Well sure,” Weeks said, “if you can take out what you don’t want in there and you can put in there what you want in there, that allows for manipulation, so if there’s anything in there that’s not correct, I’m in favor of making it correct and changing it to make that adjustment.”
The board members did not challenge her, but rather asked for time—until Sept. 12—to review the minutes, though the matter of approval by vote may be brought up again then.
But Weeks made it clear that she would choose what would be included in Canvassing Board records. Later in the meeting, Hadeed challenged Weeks on the inclusion of an email in board records by Dennis McDonald—a losing candidate for County Commission—to Hanns that had nothing to do with board business.
Weeks snapped at Hadeed: “You shouldn’t even be putting your two cents in it because you’re not a third canvassing board member, or fourth canvassing board member. You’re here for a legal question, not here to create a debate, OK?”
“It seems that anytime I talk it creates a debate,” Hadeed said. “I’m just in good faith trying to tell you what the bounds of the law are.”