John Rogers won re-election to the Bunnell City Commission Tuesday, taking the most votes in a four-way race, and Bonita Robinson won the seat formerly held by Jenny Crain-Brady. Rogers and Robinson defeated Daisy Henry, the former commissioner trying to make a come-back, and Randall Morris, who had been a no-show in most ways through the election period.
Rogers got 131 votes, or 27.23 percent, Robinson got 123 votes (25.57 percent), Morris got 117 votes (24.32 percent) and Henry got 110 votes (22.86 percent).
Incumbent Crain-Brady was not among the candidates, though she’d planned to run. She was disqualified when she was late with a required state fee for qualifying.
Seven referendum questions were also put before voters, all of them proposals to change the city charter following a charter review committee’s work that produced the seven recommendations. All seven passed with 80 to 90 percent of the vote. (See below.)
The questions, some of them explicitly patronizing of city commissioners, the mayor and city employees, asked whether candidates for office should be city residents and registered voters for at least a year before qualifying; whether commissioners and the mayor must resign their seat if seeking another public office; whether the city manager should live within a 40-mile radius of Bunnell; whether the notice for emergency meetings be extended to three days, from 24 hours; and whether the Florida Ethics Code should govern commission conduct.
The election was relatively low key, though one undercurrent was unmistakable: it was also a referendum on the future of City Manager Larry Williams. A three-vote bloc controlled his fate, with Commissioners Rogers, Elbert Tucker and Bill Baxley favoring his tenure, and Mayor Catherine Robinson and Crain-Brady opposing it. The latter two would have kept former manager Armando Martinez.
Rogers’s win means that the voting bloc he forms with Tucker and Baxley is intact, as is the status quo that prevailed before the election–and Williams’s job security: the manager can breathe a sigh of relief tonight. Robinson’s election adds a Robinson to the panel, but does not change the political equation, even if the junior Robinson aligns with the mayor. (The two are not related, except perhaps politically.)
The bribing for votes was not hidden this time: Pastor Sims Jones, who has a church in Bunnell but lives in Palm Coast, had set up a burgers-and-hot-dogs stand “for all registered voters in Bunnell” on an empty lot owned by Charles Cowart about two blocks south of the old city hall, at Pine and Booe Streets. Jones said Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks cleared the giveaway as long as it did not endorse a particular candidate.
“So, my brother, can I bribe you? Hamburger? Hot dog?” Jones said with a big smile to a passing reporter. The bribing of course was strictly non-partisan: it was an attempt by Jones and others—among them Thea Mathen, the Bunnell business owner, and the Barrs, father and son—to encourage Bunnell voters to actually vote for a change.
“This is all about getting people to vote,” Jones said. “Like the sign says over there, ‘be heard, vote.’” The city counts just under 3,000 residents, but barely half are registered, and of those, just 15 percent vote. Last year there were just 238 ballots cast in a three-way race that re-elected Elbert Tucker and elected Bill Baxley in place of Daisy Henry. The previous year, 265 ballots were cast.
Henry had spent quite a bit of time with Jones at the giveaway stand, though other candidates—John Rogers and Bonita Robinson—also stopped by for shorter periods. Henry later in the afternoon was in her red truck, within sight of the polling place, reading the Bible as she often does. She’s a preacher. She was reading Ezekiel (the chapter on false prophets, “jackals among ruins”). Did she feel good about her chances?
“Whatever the lord’s will is,” she said. “I feel pretty good,” adding: “It’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings.”
There was a colder feel to this Election Day in Bunnell, and not just because the temperature, which began the day in the mid-60s, insisted on dropping a degree every hour. In previous elections, the candidates tended to all line their booths or stand almost in a line together on the south side of the fountain, chatting each other up more than often than chatting up voters, since voters were always few and far between. Today, each candidate had clustered his or her operation as if on opposite ends of the fountain, with Bonita Robinson, John Rogers and Henry at one point looking like three different cardinal points (though Robinson and Henry had clustered together, too).
There was a fourth candidate in the race, Randall Morris, and other candidates reported seeing him walk around, but he’d made himself scarce: he was a no-show at the only candidate forum of the election last month, and he put up no election signs.
Robinson, a newcomer to Bunnell’s electoral politics but certainly not a newcomer to Bunnell politics—she worked for a half dozen years as a city employee until last fall, when she took a job with the school district—was with a group of supporters almost opposite city hall, all in bright yellow-orange shirts with the words “GROWTH” and “EQUALITY” emblazoned on the back, above and below a flying eagle.
James Hall, one of Robinson’s supporters, was at a picnic table reading a book slightly more thematically violent than Ezekiel: “Serial Murderers and Their Victims.” (Hall is a criminal justice student at Florida Tech in Melbourne.) “I know her very well,” he said of Robinson. “I know her values, I know her concerns, I know her goals, I know her ideals, and they’re everything that the city of Bunnell needs.”
Bunnell Referendum on City Charter, March 4, 2014
|1: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to require that each candidate for the office of City Commissioner or Mayor shall have been, at the time of qualifying, a resident and elector of the city for one year prior to qualifying, and be a registered elector of the city?|
|2: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to specify that the Mayor is to represent the will of the City Commission in all agreements, requiring that the Mayor communicate information relating to the public welfare on at least a quarterly basis, revising Mayoral powers relating to the City Manager, moving the State of the City Address to the second Commission meeting in April, and clarifying that the Mayor is a City Commission member?|
|3: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to clarify that Commissioners and the Mayor are subject to the requirements of Florida’s Resign-to-Run law as amended from time to time, requiring that an officeholder irrevocably resign his current office to seek another state or local office if the terms overlap?|
|4: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to require that the City Manager be selected on the basis of experience, education, expertise, and management ability relating to running municipal government, require that the City Manager establish and maintain residency within the City or a 40 mile radius from the City limits within six months of appointment, and provide mechanisms for designating an Acting City Manager upon absence or incapacity?|
|5: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to require ample prior public notice of Commission agenda items added by Commission members, with exceptions for emergencies, to change the notice equirements for a Special Meeting from 24 hours to 72 hours notice, and to specify duties of Commission members relating to professionalism and actions in the public interest?|
|6: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to require that the City Commission establish the membership, timeline and procedures for the Charter Review Committee, specify that the Charter may be amended pursuant to Florida’s citizen petition process, and to streamline certain special election procedures?|
|7: Shall the Bunnell City Charter be amended to specify that the Florida Ethics Code governs conduct related to Commission and employee conflicts of interest and ethics, require the Commission to appropriate sufficient funds to provide, require and attend annual training regarding the ethics code, and provide that penalties for ethical violations be as provided by general law or ordinance?|