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Three Candidates for Elections Supervisor Offer More Strengths Than Differences

| May 4, 2016

elections supervisor candidates medley seay lenhart

The three candidates for elections supervisor. From left, Kimble Medley, Kaiti Lenhart and Abra Seay. (© FlaglerLive)

Rarely does the Supervisor of Election’s office draw much interest: most people don’t really know what it does. Rarer still is the political panel featuring candidates for the Supervisor of Elections office that draws a crowd. But Flagler’s has not been a conventional elections office: Like England after Cromwell, it’s still recovering from the often traumatic six-year reign of Kimberle Weeks, when the office was so often in the news that it rivaled the police beat.

That ended in January 2015 when Weeks resigned and the governor appointed Kaiti Lenhart, to fill out Weeks’s term. It’s been quiet since. But absent a Democrat yet to qualify, the August primary will decide who among three Republican contenders, Lenhart among them, will be the next permanent elections supervisor. So the race is drawing unusual interest, as was evident by the first forum featuring all three candidates Wednesday evening, hosted by Flagler County Republican Club and held at the Palm Coast Community Center. Close to 100 people turned up to see Lenhart, Kimble Medley and Abra Seay take on 10 questions in turn.

It was no slugfest. Aside from a single curt but passing exchange between Medley and Lenhart over the number of precincts before and after 2012 (Medley said the number went from 34 to 22, Lenhart said it went from 28 to 22, voting documents on the elections office’s website show they went from 35 to 23) the three candidates took no swipes at each other and not only kept their answers on the questions, but showed remarkable focus in their answers, displaying none of the political tendencies of candidates to stray onto their own talking points and evade questions: they came off over a 60-minute span more like brainiacs at a seminar rather than as politicians at a candidate forum.

The questions, prepared by the club’s Wes Priest, were light on generalities and heavy on the nuts and bolts of running the elections’ office—budgets, equipment modernization, voters’ proximity to precincts, hiring practices, policies, ballot integrity, and so on. The result was an unusually thoughtful forum that may have left listeners perplexed only to the extent that their decision would be made harder by the relatively even quality of the candidates: there are no duds. Lenhart herself summed it up accurately in her closing statement: “I think that everyone has answered these questions really well, and it might be a hard choice for many of you out there to decide who to vote for.”

Each spoke from her strengths: Lenhart as the incumbent has her record of “rebuilding” the office and restoring civility there, as she put it, after working there for five years previously. Medley has been studying the office, attending its canvassing board meetings and preparing for the job for just as long, displaying her knowledge literally down to the penny on a couple of occasions this evening, when citing budget figures. Seay clearly lacks experience and familiarity with the office compared to her two rivals: she alone spoke most often with notes before her. Yet she comes across as the most managerially savvy of the three, not least because of her recent years coordinating the school district’s Early Childhood Education Department. It’s a $1.2 million operation whose budget exceeds that of the elections office by $400,000, and whose number of employees, all under Seay’s supervision, is five times the size of the elections office’s.

People in attendance saw three distinct personalities: Seay and Lenhart seemed more at ease than Medley, who was the most polished of the three but also more wooden than she is in person, when her personality more closely resembles Seay’s affability. Lenhart spoke fast –her speech rhythms have a NASCAR quality to them–with an accumulation of details that were sometimes difficult to follow. But the three candidates left little doubt that they are quick, sharp learners with a healthy, nerdy interest in the supervisor’s office (Seay was convinced to run by Peggy Rae Border, whose nearly two-decade  and flawless tenure as Flagler’s elections supervisor preceded the Weeks years. Border was at the forum. Weeks was not.)

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And when it came to their answers, the differences were difficult to detect. Depending on the question some spoke in more detail than others, but they each showed their strengths. Lenhart was quick to show the contrast between her tenure and Weeks’s (without mentioning Weeks by name) when she spoke of returning a federal grant to the office for the first time in six years, a $147,000 grant that’ll help reduce the county’s spending on new voting equipment due by the 2018 election, and when she spoke of reviewing all policies and procedures when she took over and improving training procedures, with more focus on cross-training. Medley repeatedly sounded like the office’s finance chief, but she also spoke of wanting to improve the office’s perception: “The first change I’d like to see is attitude, that customer service, it’s our first job.” When asked after the forum about improvements since Weeks’s tenure ended, Medley said two current county commissioners had not positive experiences with their campaign finance issues there.

Seay, for her part, brightened a few faces in the audience when she spoke of wanting to train students ion the district to be poll workers and run school elections as if they were poll workers, as a way to prepare them for the next step—and to engage students, even in the lower grades, in the electoral process. She said younger students could vote for their favorite books.

The single-most contentious question of the evening—and contentious is likely too strong a word—was about the reduction of precincts in the county, and whether the candidates would increase them again, with an increasing population. The precincts were reduced from a combination of reasons earlier this decade: the Great Recession played a part, cutting local government budgets, so did the surge in early voting and voting by mail, which has reduced by a third the volume of voters on election day, so did Weeks’s abrasive relationship with a county commission that was mistrustful of the supervisor’s spending ways.

Seay, showing her distance from the office, was the most radical on that score: she said she’d immediately restore three of the most outlying precincts cut during the Weeks years, even though those were among the least-frequented precincts. She said she can convince the commission to put up the money. “When you have your facts and you present that to your governing board they see that you’ve done your homework,” Seay said.

Lenhart was more careful. “There’s so much involved with that,” she said of expanding precincts, citing equipment, money, poll workers and training as having to be in place before any such expansion is possible, while some poll workers may have to be convinced to travel those distances. But, she said, some new precincts will be inevitable as one or two current precincts are reaching their capacity, among them the VFW on Palm Coast’s north side, which numbers 8,000 voters.

Medley said growth must be anticipated, and with it equipment and budgetary needs, but—likely because of her familiarity with the office’s budget—she did not go so far as to suggest adding precincts. Rather, she spoke of “other options,” such as the push for voting by mail or voting early, and for traditionalists who still like to vote on election day, “can we look at transportation opportunities?”

The audience responded warmly to all three throughout: there was no distinctly higher decibel levels in the applause for one over the other, and all three candidates remained and engaged in individual discussions with club members long after the forum had disbanded.

13 Responses for “Three Candidates for Elections Supervisor Offer More Strengths Than Differences”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    We have 3 high quality women running for office. This is a good problem to have. Wish we could have all 3 serve the office.

  2. PJ says:

    Experience, knowledge and qualifications should be running that office. Not an “I think I can” attitude to manage, maintaining and running this office. Remember this a Presidential election year we don’t need the “hanging chad” experience again. Choose. experience and choose wisely the last person won because she stood on Palm Coast parkway 8 hrs a day and had name recognition but knew nothing about the job.

  3. 30 year cop says:

    It was a very good forum, but I think having just one person ask ALL of the questions can lend itself to favoritism. Why wasn’t the audience allowed to ask questions? I hope that future forums allow the audience to participate.

  4. Brad W says:

    In contrast, I think the differences were very apparent. I look at the campaigning like a job interview, and the Elections Office position (which pays over $95k/year out of our local tax dollars) is a pretty important one. We just went through 6 years of someone who abused the position because was doing some real damage.

    I my opinion, Kaiti Lenhart really shined. Since being appointed this past year it’s apparent she has really taken the bull by the horns and made real positive moves forward (restoring federal tax dollars to the budget, on-demand ballot printers, securing over $140k in grants to help pay for new equipment, improving communications with the community, etc.). All of which she has done during a very busy election year. She has smart plans for the future.

    Kim Medley was the least impressive in my opinion. Medley talks like she knows the ins and outs of the office, but the reality is that her only experience working there was 7 years ago and only for about 7 months when she quit. She hasn’t held a job in the last 7 years either. Having an education and memorizing laws without actual experience doesn’t hold much water for me personally. What also is questionable for me regarding her is stability. She quit the job she had there in in 7 months citing a “hostile work environment” with the Supervisor (Kim Weeks during the 2012 election. Whether she can handle the stress of the office is questionable. In addition, according to her Code enforcement bord application she has moved about 8 times within Palm Coast since 2004 never owning property here. That’s very questionable in my opinion.

    Abra Seay brings good management background in a government setting to the table, but it was clear that she is not very aware of the inner workings of the election processes and the Office. Yes, those are teachable but in comparison to a sitting SOE candidate who is doing a great job I don’t think Abra is bringing enough that says we should change.

    If the election happened at that forum, Kaiti Lenhart should be elected hands down. If Kim Medley is elected I would say it’s a travesty for our community and would take things backwards when they are moving forward in such a positive direction. Abra Seay has a chance but Kaiti Lenhart is the best choice for the community and should be given the opportunity to continue the positive work she is doing in the role right now.

  5. Kendall says:

    Flagler Live, if you ever happen to interview Ms. Medley, please ask her why she thought she should be entitled to unemployment compensation after working for the Supervisor of Elections Office for a mere seven months then quitting.

  6. YankeeExPat says:

    It’s Time to give NPA Voters full representation. Independents are disenfranchised in primary elections.

    27 percent of Florida voters are not registered as Democrat or Republican.

  7. Republican Voter says:

    Weeks was ranked by the Governor in 2012 as one of the top Supervisor’s in the state of Florida and never did she have a problem conducting elections. It is unfortunate this woman resigned and gave it up after standing up for the voters for so long. Elections always went smooth and results were promptly reported. She improved the elections office by leaps and bounds and I am proud of her for standing up against the bullies (County Commissioners, County Attorney, County Administrator and the City of Palm Coast). I hope she will run again so we can have confidence again in honest elections.

  8. Surfgod says:

    I was there and to me, it appears that Kati Lenhart has managerial knowledge of the office, but seems to lack the strategic leadership experience that would be a big advantage when it comes to long-term planning and dealing with the other political entities like the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners. Once in office, any competent person should be able to learn, understand and improve the day-to-day operational processes, procedures and mandates. I would hope that a more lofty ideal of critical, strategic leadership would prevail when apparent in the right candidate. Abra showed her innovative side when bringing forth her vision of growing voter knowledge and awareness in the upcoming generations.

    “The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.”
    -Warren Bennis

  9. Joe says:

    Contrast for sure, the differences for me like the poster Brad W above I agree with everything that he said in regards to K Medley., so enough already said about her. In regards to Lenhart these are my problems. First off she was Kimberly Weeks right hand for 6 years. With all the embarrassment, drama and abuse of the position, not a peep out of her about anything, I don’t find that too integral IMO. I also believe she accepted some type of bonus money I remember reading about that was another big deal at the time. Was it ever returned? So I am afraid of what could happen to that office after the election, something I’m not willing to gamble on and waist my vote. To me its time to get away from all relics of the Weeks era period! Now moving on to Abra Seay. She is the only one never to have worked under Weeks.She is also the only candidate who has a very long history of leadership and can be trusted. When you have the endorsement of a 2 decade flawless tenured retired SOE, that to me is saying a lot! Abra Seay will get my vote and I suspect many others as well!

  10. Tara says:

    Kendall-I have also heard Kimble Medley was paid nearly $4,000 in unemployment in error by the state and the state had to take her to court in Leon County to recover the funds for Flagler County because Medley would not voluntarily repay the money that was paid to her in error. I don’t believe Kimble Medley is an honorable person and it would be a night-mare if she were elected for the position of SOE. But then again, Medley would fit in well with the county BOCC and their staff :-o

    Flagler County needs change—Vote all incumbents out in 2016!

    Vote SEAY
    Vote Calderwood
    Vote Lamb
    Vote France
    Vote Courtney

  11. tulip says:

    To YankeeExPat—–I agree with you about Npa or Independent voters. Some states do have open primaries and I think ALL states should allow ALL registered voters to vote in the Primaries. That way you get a more truthful or accurate voting poll.

    Actually, after seeing what goes in the different states with this Presidential election I am shocked at how much our vote does not count because it can be manipulated by rules change or caucuses especially, and pledged and unpledged delegates. I am forever discouraged. To me —majority should rule. JMO

  12. Bhhhhhaaaaa says:

    Lenhart’s face says it all….what a joke. Three people desperate for a $100,000 a year job. They will all tell you what you want to hear.

    Medley in my opinion stole thousands from the office she is seeking when she applied for and accepted unemployment paid to her that she was not entitled to and later had to pay back.

    Seay ran a VPK that went belly up! She proved she is not a business minded person and is not responsible. Lets hear what she has to say how she paid her staff cash and didn’t pay taxes on their wages.

  13. no time for pleasantries says:

    Your choice in this particular election, unfortunately boils down to the lesser of three coat tailers:

    First, you have Ms. Leinhart who coat tailed in on the former Supervisor’s appointment recommendation to the Government upon her resignation. Ms. Leinhart has managed to stay afloat since her appointment, so my guess would be with the generous assistance afforded her by the County Commission, who vehemently opposed her predecessor in all facets of the job. Ms. Leinhart lacks creative thought in strengthening the Elections Office, and lacks any sort of enthusiasm or energy. She seems lackluster in her leadership ability as well.

    Next up, is Ms. Medley who has proven that fiscal responsibility and honesty are not her strong suits. A comment above suggests that she hasn’t worked since quitting her position at the Elections Office some 7 years ago, yet her resume boasts college training and acquired degrees ad nausem. She knowingly collected unemployment compensation funds that she knew was undeserved as well; tisk, tisk. My biggest concern with Ms. Medley would be her inability to manage to her own finances (let alone the fiances of the Elections office), her lack of honesty and the glaring fact that she has no experience to occupy this office, despite hearing quite often her 7 month tenure, 7 years ago at the Elections Office. Is it terrible to question that she may want this $94k/year position to pay off student loans? Although, I would be more curious to see if she was a proud recipient of welfare tuition, one that yet again, would cost the tax payers.

    Lastly, it seems that Ms. Seay is the least qualified for this position. From the sounds of it, she has a poor track record with maintaining her own finances (business included) and she has not been in her current position with the Schools long enough to ease my mind that she is any more qualified to asses the Elections budget than the teller at my bank. If she mismanaged her own VPK business (one could assume it is within the same purview as her current line of work) and lost her business, then there are some serious red flags. What’s this about paying former employees cash to avoid taxes? Someone more enlightened, please elaborate!! There is also a little rumor floating around that the former Supervisor of Elections, Peggy Border is her mother in law. Therefore, an endorsement from the MIL, isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation as opposed to one that might receive an endorsement, through honest means, like networking. Nothing like a family reunion in the office that the tax payers built, to house those belonging to the Club of the Good Ol’ Boys.

    Therefore, being forced to choose, I would have to lean my support towards Ms. Leinhart. I will pour my glass of scotch now and wait for the fireworks.

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