The Flagler County Canvassing Board Friday morning rejected an attempt by Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks and both her attorneys—she now has two—to remove Al Hadeed as Canvassing Board attorney. The decision reaffirms Hadeed’s role as the board attorney. But Weeks is not recognizing it, choosing instead to retain her own counsel, Roberta Walton of Orlando, to represent her on board matters.
The decision was prompted by an “open letter” written by Mike Lambert, a Daytona Beach attorney now representing Weeks as she is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over a recording of a conversation Weeks made “illegally,” according to the county administration. (Asked about the status of the investigation, an FDLE spokeswoman said late Friday afternoon that “The case is active.”)
Lambert wrote the letter to County Court Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, who chairs the Canvassing Board, and who read the letter into the record. Citing “two strong irreconcilable camps with regard to the investigation,” Lambert said the board should have someone other than Hadeed as its attorney “because of the appearance and documented strain between him” and Weeks. The board attorney, Lamber wrote, should be someone who is “disinterested, not a party or potential material witness in the current investigation.” (The full letter is here.)
A long and at times tense discussion followed between the three members of the Canvassing Board: Moore-Stens, County Commissioner George Hanns, and Weeks, as Hadeed (who is the county attorney) sat at the table. Weeks made a motion to have Hadeed removed as the board attorney. She didn’t get a second. Hanns and Moore-Stens did not vote to keep Hadeed, but they didn’t need to: both made clear that they disagreed with Lambert and Weeks—and Walton, who at one point interjected her own opinion that Hadeed should be removed as board attorney (but also incorrectly stating that the administrative running of the board was the supervisor’s responsibility: state law is silent on that matter, but explicit about the judge chairing the proceedings, and the county commission having the authority to appoint a replacement for the supervisor in the event the supervisor is unable to attend, or is disqualified ) .
“I see no conflict as far as keeping Mr, Hadeed,” Hanns said. “I haven’t experienced any direct conflict that the attorney has created.” Weeks objected to a “duplication of services,” though it was she, without board approval, who brought in Walton as an attorney. Weeks then delved into issues years distant that she claims revealed Hadeed to have taken steps or provided counsel that could have potentially created difficulties for her office—claims Hadeed rejected as inaccurate or mis-characterized.
Before the meeting, County Administrator Craig Coffee brought in Chriustie Mayer, his administrative assistant, to record the meeting and take notes that will be turned into minutes of the meeting, a reflection of the county’s distrust of Weeks’s own minutes, which have been more tendentious than objective. Moore-Stens said the board had agreed on Sept. 12 that the minutes would be scaled back from Weeks’s version and state only the essence of actions and decisions of the board, with a recording as back-up for anyone interested in more details. Weeks, however, rejected Mayer’s role.
“I don’t know where it came in that Christy is doing the minutes,” Weeks said.
“But she is here recording,” the judge said.
“As I am,” Weeks said. The county recording is to be made available for public access, presumably more swiftly than Weeks has made recordings available.
Weeks wasn’t done: she said County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, an alternate member of the board—he was not present today, being in training on county business in Alachua County—had made a $50 donation to County Commission incumbent candidate Frank Meeker in July. While the donation was not illegal under the law for an alternate member of the board., Weeks said it could send the impression of impropriety. (The $50 was payment at a heavily attended fund-raising function that day that also included a $50 donation from Dave Sullivan, the Republican Executive Committee chairman, who Weeks had invited to observe today’s proceedings. She also invited his Democratic equivalent, who was not present.)
And Weeks called Hanns’s comments in September, raising questions about the “integrity” of the primary election, “off the wall” and “inappropriate,” accusing him potentially shaking voters’ confidence in the process. Hanns called Weeks’s handling of the Sept. 12 Canvassing Board meeting, where she had numerous partisans in attendance, “off the wall,” called it “total chaos” and suggested it had been orchestrated, but assured Weeks that his comments about the integrity of the election were not personal.
In sum, what had started as a routine Canvassing Board meeting to check and test voting machines turned into what has become the norm at board meetings since August: a cringe-worthy exhibition of combativeness, gripes, protests and last words overwhelmingly provoked by Weeks.
There was a surprise. When Hanns asked Weeks whether she had worked out an agreement with Palm Coast on the use of the Community Center, ahead of the coming November election—an issue Weeks made bitterly contentious just before and during the primary election over matters almost irrelevant to voters—she said: “I haven’t worked on that yet.”
She then raised objections to the draft protocol Hadeed had worked out, at the Canvassing Board’s direction, to resolve the issues with Palm Coast. Weeks had rejected that protocol at the board’s raucous Sept. 12 meeting, when she also decided that Hadeed would no longer represent her on any matters. Moore-Stens tried to say that the issue was moot, since the board went along and shelved the proposed protocol, but Weeks persisted, saying that Hadeed’s work lacked all the issues of concern she had wanted included in it. Hadeed made one of two statements he spoke during today’s meeting, objecting to Weeks’s implication that it was a final proposal: “The context, Madam supervisor, was that it was a draft, it was stamped as a draft,” he said. (See the protocol here.)
The board shelved the proposal. But there was another surprise this morning. When asked where the city stood regarding its communications with Weeks, Virginia Smith, Palm Coast’s city clerk, who oversees elections for Palm Coast, said in an email: “The City of Palm Coast agrees with the agreement presented to the Canvassing Board and the Supervisor of Elections by County Attorney, Al Hadeed at the September 12, 2014 Canvassing Board meeting regarding the use of the Community Center. We have not been contacted by the Supervisor of Elections nor her attorney for anything different than as to what the City has agreed to.”
In other words, the Hadeed protocol, as far as Palm Coast is concerned, is the working document of the coming election.
The Canvassing Board had met at 9 this morning to test voting machines, as it is required to before an election, filling offices that last caught the county’s attention when Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents carried out a search warrant there earlier this month as part of an ongoing investigation of the Supervisor of Elections.
Until the testing of the machines was done at 10:30 Weeks raised no issues and the meetings looked like it would wind down calmly. There were only a dozen people in attendance not connected to the proceedings–and no recording device was left behind in the Canvassing Board conference room when the board moved to the larger room nearby to test machines.
It was in the conference room that Weeks had left her recording device on a previous occasion and surreptitiously recorded Hadeed and Erickesn in a private conversation, which Weeks then made public in an attempt to embarrass them. That’s the recording that triggered FDLE’s investigation.
Today, while Hadeed remained in the conference room as he usually does, while the board did its testing work in the adjoining room, the only Weeks factor left behind with Hadeed was her husband, Dwayne, whose presence throughout was one of the unusual wrinkles of today’s meeting. He last made news when he confronted Meeker in a brief altercation at a candidate forum in late September, in response to Meeker’s August insult of Kimberle Weeks. (He suggested that the State Attorney appoint an attorney for the board, instead of Hadeed. It is the State Attorney’s office that forwarded materials to FDLE leading to Weeks’s investigation.)
There were other such wrinkles. Jim Halter, an official with the Florida Division of Elections, was also present to observe the proceedings. And of course the county had its own minute-taker at the meeting. People in attendance included Weeks partisans, among them Dennis McDonald, Carol Hawkins and a few poll workers, opponents that included Kimble Medley, and observers such as Sullivan.
The meeting ended for good a little before noon.