The Palm Coast City Council this morning set July 27 as the date for the special election to elect a new mayor in place of Milissa Holland, who resigned Tuesday evening.
The council agreed unanimously to require candidates to qualify for the election either by gathering 497 signed and certified petitions or by paying a $1,140 fee. Petitions may be gathered between May 24 and May 28. “It’s a good qualification to show someone is serious,” whether it’s the signatures or the fee required, Council member Nick Klufas said.
Qualifying is set between June 1 and June 7 at noon. There will be early voting at three locations–at the Community Center, the Flagler County library and the elections office in Bunnell.
The last time Palm Coast held a stand-alone election, in 2011, it cost $50,000. The cost will be “substantially a lot higher, so probably upwards of $100,000,” City Clerk Virginia Smith said today. There will be upwards of 21,000 mail ballots, which drive up the cost.
There was friction at the start of today’s special meeting, beginning not with the procedures of the special election, but with the naming of an acting vice mayor. Since the actual vice mayor, Eddie Branquino, is now the acting mayor, he had to have an acting vice mayor named, in case he was unable to attend a coming meeting. Branquinho made a motion to appoint Klufas vice-mayor, which Klufas himself seconded, the gavel passing from Branquinho to Klufas to Victor Barbosa to enable the motions. (“We’re running out of gavel-holders,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann joked.)
But Council member Ed Danko raised questions about the procedure. He wanted the nomination to take place after the discussion on setting an election date. He turned that into an amended motion. It failed. So did the motion to appoint Klufas vice-mayor. And there it was: in its first post-Holland order of business today, the council proved incapable of agreeing to so much as a procedural appointment. The council’s division took center stage, possibly framing the weeks ahead.
“We’ll proceed without a vice mayor. There will not be one appointed today,” Branquinho said. But at the end of the meeting Branquinho said Klufas would conduct meetings in his absence anyway, since Klufas is now the member with the most seniority.
The council adopted the parameters of the special election swiftly and with no dissent. But a longer discussion followed about absentee or mail-in ballots.
Only one person–Alan Lowe, Holland’s opponent for mayor last November and now a candidate for the special election–addressed the council on the election measure itself (two others spoke on other issues). “Let’s make sure people that want to run for this office are willing to put in the work and do it,” he said. “I think you guys are making the right decision on that.”
The city will have its own canvassing board: Smith and the supervisor of elections, plus an appointee of the council’s and an alternate. Those appointments will be made at the next council meeting.
Prefacing the meeting, City Manager Matt Morton justified the scheduling of this morning’s emergency meeting without 24 hours’ notice by saying the city faced an actual emergency, with Branquinho set to leave the country Thursday ()until June 20) and Morton himself absenting himself from the city later in the week for private, medical reasons. Nevertheless, it’s the first time in local government that such an emergency meeting was held without the customary 24-hour notice. Florida law does not specify how long “reasonable” notice must be for an emergency meeting.
The meeting drew a small audience, fewer than two dozen people, with the city’s top staff seated in the room as it usually does in regular meetings.
The meeting’s star–the person who got the most plaudits-was Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart, who was not even in the room, though she was apparently in communication with Smith throughout the meeting as questions came up and she answered them on the spot. The council adjourned less than 40 minutes in.
There was a curious presence in the audience: Charlie Ericksen, the former two-term county commissioner who had run for Palm Coast mayor against Jon Netts in 2011, getting 41 percent of the vote. Was he thinking of running again? “I don;t know. I can’t say. I was a little surprised by the announcement,” he said of Holland’s resignation. “I’m not so sure I could even work for some of these clowns here. This is a hostile environment here, every time I’ve come to these meetings, it’s a hostile environment.”
Branquinho after the meeting said he was approached by numerous people who encouraged him to run for mayor. He declined. He said he would not think the move responsible, given the tumult on the council, and did not want to add to it. He said he had no aspiration to be mayor anywhere. “I will not use this as a trampoline to go anywhere,” Branquinho said.