LARGO -- When Mary Black, a candidate for the City Commission in the March election, stood before the commission January 4 and asserted that the petition cards of other candidates were invalid, she seemed to have the law solidly on her side.
But a ruling by City Attorney Alan Zimmet has, in effect, mooted Black's assertions and notwithstanding the provisions of the Largo charter has decreed that the election proceed with the six candidates who have been qualified.
Black's argument rested on the provisions of Section 7.02(a) of the City Charter, which says, ". . .On each petition form, there shall be an affidavit of the circulator thereof, stating that the petitioner's signature thereon was made in his or her presence and is the genuine signature of the registered voter it purports to be."
No such certification language or place for signature exists on the petition cards.
Further, the City Charter says in Section 7.02(c) that "Within seven business days after the filing of the nominating petition (at least 200 cards), the city clerk shall notify the candidate in writing whether or not it satisfied the requirements prescribed this charter. If a petition is found to be insufficient, the city clerk shall return it immediately to the candidate with a statement certifiying wherein it is found insufficient."
Black's argument was further stated by her campaign manager, Bruce McManus, who raised the issue in a letter to Mayor Bob Jackson, written on McManus's law firm stationery.
McManus argued in the letter that the petition cards should have been returned to candidates as insufficient. He also said that "Unless there is a state statute that supersedes the procedure required by the Charter" the petitions would be invalid.
Zimmet responded on Friday. While acknowledging that the cards did not comport with the requirements of the city charter, he pointed out that the cards were of the type provided by the Supervisor of Elections.
He also noted that Black included this language on the back of her cards -- "Affidavit of circulator: The petitioner's signature on the petition form on the front of this card was made in my presence and is the genuine signature of the registered voter it purports to be."
Zimmet, in his letter, maintained that this language also does not comport with the requirements in the Charter for an affidavit of the circulator.
"An 'affidavit'," he wrote, "is a statement sworn to under oath in front of a notary public. The statement provided by the circulator on the back of Mrs. Black's petition cards is not made under oath nor is it sworn to (before a notary)."
Zimmet went on to point out that Florida case law indicates that courts prefer to let the people decide the ultimate qualifications of candidates.
"Requiring complete strict compliance with statutory language which requires hypersensitive levels, strains the quality of justice and is not required to fairly and substantially meet the statutory requirements to qualify as a candidate for public office," Zimmet wrote.
Because the courts have noted they do not favor rejecting or challenging a candidacy on the grounds Black raised after the qualifying period ended, and because candidates have relied on an election official's guidance and certification, all six candidates should be included on the ballot, Zimmet said.
It would seem that to be in full compliance with the charter provisions in the future, those people circulating petition cards would have to be a notary public, have a notary public with them, or take petition card signers before a notary.
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