LARGO -- Certain provisions of the Largo City Charter relating to elections are effectively meaningless.
They have been ignored or violated willy-nilly with no consequences for those who were lacking in following the rules.
Mary Black, a candidate for the commission seat being vacated by Pat Burke, pointed out the violation to the City Commission at its regular meeting January 4, but it had the same impact as if she had said, "a man in London just mailed a letter."
In other words, no effect, no comment, no upset.
Black, who served as city clerk in Belleair Beach a few years ago and is also a former Largo commission member, did something other candidates did not do (and evidently have not done in the past several elections).
She read the law and charter pertaining to city elections. In that law she saw a provision that 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."
The language is referring to cards candidates get citizens to sign to qualify them for election. There is no such language on the cards. Black provided her own language and as far as she is concerned maintains that she complied with the law.
Alan Zimmet, the highly paid Largo city attorney, responded to a letter from Bruce McManus, Black's campaign manager and also a lawyer, and acknowledged that the cards did not comply with the requirements of the city charter.
But Zimmet argued that Black's actions did not follow the law, writing to McManus that "An ‘affidavit'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)."
McManus, fully aware that the election will proceed and contemplating no legal action, responded to Zimmet's claim in a January 12 letter in which he cites a legal definition of "affidavit" that does not mention notary public, and points out that the charter says nothing about an oath before a notary public.
"The obvious meaning of the Charter is that the circulator has to be in the presence of the registered voter and validates that it a genuine or true signature," McManus wrote.
McManus continued, "I find your arguments defending the city's action weak and troubling. It would seem that with the national focus on election procedures, you would consider this the serious problem that it is."
One other difficulty in the current election process is that Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager who has been designated to take over the duties that otherwise are legally lodged in the city clerk's office, is not an "election authority established by law" as required by Section 701(c) of the city Charter.
The commission was due to repair this defect at its meeting Tuesday night. It is an issue that arises from another situation and the City Commission was asked to make a change while not publicly revealing the reason for the change.
One observer said, "The city is like a guy already in a hole who keeps digging."
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