Jackson Gets a Lawyer to Fight Largo Move to Kick Him Off Ballot
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Bob Jackson will make a fight to keep his name on the ballot for the November election in which he is seeking to get his job back as mayor.
He learned last week that because of a paperwork foul-up in City Hall his name was being removed from the ballot.
On Monday, he engaged a lawyer, Bob Walker of Clearwater, to fight his case which actually comes down to errors made by the Largo city clerk and a notary public.
Walker has sent a letter to the city outlining the case for Jackson.
As of Monday, Jackson had not been officially notified, in writing, of the action to remove him from the election race. Perhaps typical country bumpkin work in a city that is run, country bumpkin style, from the top.
Largo is learning in ever increasingly sharp and painful lessons in recent months about the price it is paying for having an inexperienced city manager.
The contention by those who want to keep Jackson from challenging one-term mayor Pat Gerard is that he failed to sign a document call the "Loyalty Oath."
It is a one-page piece of paper that lists a candidate's name and contains the wording - "I (name, written in by candidate), a citizen of the State of Florida and the United States of America . . . and a candidate for public office . . . do hereby solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Florida."
The document goes on to include a space for signature, phone number, and email address as well as residential address. The form must be notarized.
To tell the story, one needs to know the dramatis personae.
They are - Bob Jackson, former mayor and current candidate for mayor, the protagonist.
Diane Bruner, the city clerk.
Donna Givens, the notary public and a city employee.
The setting is the lobby of the Largo City Hall at approximately 10 a.m. on Monday, August 10, three days before qualifying papers from candidates are due.
As anyone familiar with the lobby at City Hall knows, it can be a very busy place.
It was amid all this hubbub and activity of people coming and going, phones ringing, phones being answered (by Givens, who serves as a receptionist), people talking, moving about that Jackson endeavored to fill out his campaign papers.
Bruner says, "I routinely review all submitted forms for completeness. . . . I reviewed all the forms submitted by Mr. Jackson. I overlooked the missing signature . . ."
The Loyalty Oath form requires a notary public's certification. Jackson's form was notarized.
Florida Statute 117.107 says "A notary public may not notarize a signature on a document if the document is incomplete or blank."
The notarizing process is serious business, at least according to Florida law.
For Jackson to have his signature properly notarized, he had to be before the notary public who would actually witness the signing.
The jurat of the notary (the certification) clearly states this. It says -
"Sworn to (or affirmed) and subscribed before me this ___ day of ________, 200_.The notary checks off the identification method.
Jackson completed the Loyalty Oath form but had not yet signed it, awaiting action from the notary public.
An eye and ear witness who was present during the procedure in the City Hall lobby says there was confusion with papers being passed among the three principals.
"I thought they should be doing it all in the privacy of an office. It was not very orderly," the witness said.
Two days after the proceedings in the lobby, Jackson received a letter from Bruner saying he was qualified to run for office.
Bruner, at the August 18 City Commission meeting, reported to the commission that all was in order for the election and a drawing was then held for ballot position.
That procedure has led to a lot of confusion because of the contention by the city's part time lawyer that the commission has nothing to do with the election process. "Why then," one observer asked, "does the clerk report the situation to the commission which then conducts a drawing? Is it all a joke?"
Although a "legal opinion" was submitted by the city attorney that is one-sided and is in the mode of finding reasons to support a conclusion already reached, that opinion doesn't begin to examine or study what might be legally applicable.
For instance, Florida Statute 876.07 says -
"Oath as prerequisite to qualification for public office.--Any person seeking to qualify for public office who fails or refuses to file the oath required by this act shall be held to have failed to qualify as a candidate for public office, and the name of such person shall not be printed on the ballot as a qualified candidate."The language of the statute says "fails to file" - Jackson certainly did complete the paperwork and filed the paper, giving it to the clerk who says she made copies of all Jackson's paperwork and returned it to him.
Jackson filled out the Loyalty Oath document, including information regarding his name which was hand printed, the office he was seeking, the jurisdiction thereof, his phone number, his residential address, his email address. By giving it to the clerk, he "filed" it.
He was then ready to have the notary public witness his signature. But this never happened. The clerk took his papers, gave them to the notary and then told Jackson he was qualified.
Perhaps a court would interpret "file" to incorporate the idea of "signed"; but then again, plain language would indicate that Jackson fulfilled the requirement of the statute. He filed the document.
When what took place in City Hall lobby 2 1/2 weeks ago was described to a person who once worked for the city and is totally conversant with the city clerk's job said, "It is preposterous that Mister Jackson's papers were allowed to be filled out in a busy lobby with phones ringing, people coming and going and so forth. It should have been privately in a quiet office setting instead of in the setting of a three-ring circus."
What began last Thursday as the latest debacle in the leaderless and drifting city had folks all over the city talking and not in kindly terms.
One insider, thoroughly familiar with what goes on in city hall, opined, "You can bet they went over (Curtis) Holmes's papers with a magnifying glass. Looks like he might win a commission seat and those folks don't want the applecart upended. They've got a nice gig going."
If the action taken against Jackson stands, and no fair resolution is reached or a court does not back the former mayor as a matter of equitable fairness, the biggest losers, of course, will be the disenfranchised voters - they will have no choice for mayor.
Because that could well happen, one former office holder in Largo was extremely upset - "How could a minor, obviously unintentional mistake, eliminate one of the most important aspects of our democratic system - the choice of a candidate? It's like, 'you forget to cross a t, or dot an i, therefore you are out.'"
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