In an effort to end a conflict that’s prevented Palm Coast and the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections to agree to terms for the supervisor’s running of the 2014 municipal elections, the city council Tuesday evening voted unanimously to convey two proposed agreements to the supervisor, leaving it to her to choose one. Failing that, the city is asking the Secretary of State to intervene (again) and mediate a solution.
“We do not want to conduct an election, we want the SOE to conduct an election,” council member Bill McGuire said, calling himself ready to do what’s necessary to get to that point and end what he termed the “trauma” the city and the supervisor’s office have been enduring. “I hope and I pray that we can bring this to a successful conclusion.”
Weeks, however, has so far shown no inclination to go along with Palm Coast’s approach.
The so-called interlocal agreements outline the responsibilities of the supervisor and the city in carrying out the 2014 primary and general election, in which two council seats are up. The city election will be carried ut in conjunction with county, state and federal elections for the first time, pursuant to a 2011 referendum when some 60 percent of voters agreed to change election cycles from odd to even years. The change saves the city money and will presumably improve turn-out, which has been a problem in city elections.
Weeks has objected top the way the city formalized the switch. She claims that the 2014 elections could lead to a lawsuit from a voter challenging the legality of the process. The county and city attorney, the state Division of Elections’ attorney, the Secretary of State himself and the attorney for the state elections supervisors’ association have all told Weeks that the city was on firm ground, and that she had no liability in case of a lawsuit. None of the opinions have satisfied Weeks.
She sent a proposed agreement to the city that was fraught with demands and conditions, among them the right to herself choose city facilities should the availability of precincts fall through, and to potentially upend a previous agreement with the city on how and when she may use what portions of the Palm Coast Community Center for early voting and election days.
The city council Tuesday evening said it would not agree to such demands, but that it would take Weeks’s proposal and make its own few changes to it. The word “agreement,” Mayor Jon Netts said, implies a negotiated agreement, not a one-sided demand. In case a precinct were to fall through, the city agrees to work cooperatively with Weeks to find an alternative. But it does not agree to the supervisor making arbitrary demands “because that was inconsistent with what this council has previously agreed to,” Palm Coast City Attorney Bill Reischmann said. That’s Palm Coast’s negotiated offer.
In an effort to further accommodate the supervisor, the city also approved a proposed agreement very similar to the one Weeks had in place with Flagler Beach when it ran its elections. The proposal red-lines a few items specific to Flagler Beach, substituting details specific to Palm Coast. But it is free of demands, and it is “consistent with directions from the secretary of state,” Reischmann said.
Two additional changes were proposed: to ensure that should a referendum qualify for the 2014 election (one such proposed referendum is in the works: to end red-light cameras) the agreements accommodate the inclusion. And should a sitting council member die, the agreements accommodate the possibility of a third seat being open at election time.
Both agreements will be handed to Weeks by Wednesday, a deadline she arbitrarily set for the city to have an agreement in place. Council members wondered about the April 2 deadline. It’s not in state law. “I cannot tell you why that date was chosen by the supervisor,” Reischmann said.
Should she reject both agreements, the city will call on the secretary of state to propose an agreement, though in essence that’s what the secretary did last week in a letter to Weeks, urging her to go along with the proposal similar to the one Palm Coast adopted from Flagler Beach.
Just five people addressed the council on the matter—three asking for clarification about the eventual election process, and two in support of Weeks.
Council member Jason DeLorenzo said he hoped the supervisor will negotiate “in good faith” rather than stick to certain demands. “I hope we can solve this now, finally, and have a good election, because that was the point, is to improve voter turnout by putting it on the ballot with the county.”