Holmes Beach crafts election canvassing board solution

Holmes Beach city officials don’t recall ever having the problem they now face in the Nov. 5 election.

There is a city election every year, but every other year, when there is no federal election requiring the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office to staff people to count the countywide votes, the Holmes Beach charter requires a city canvassing board for that purpose.

The charter also requires the canvassing board comprise elected officials not up for election that year. Unless, that is, those officials are involved in a campaign, at which time the mayor is to select another elected official.

In preparing to supply this year’s canvassing board, Commissioners Marvin Grossman and Judy Titsworth said they would endorse one of the five candidates vying for the commission in the 2013 election cycle.

Titsworth said she’s endorsing incumbent Commissioner Pat Morton because he supported her during her run for office. Grossman indicated he is supporting one of the candidates who is not a sitting a commissioner.

Because Commissioners David Zaccagnino, Jean Peelen and Morton are all up for re-election, only Grossman and Titsworth were eligible for the canvassing board and both have disqualified themselves by pledging to be actively involved in a campaign.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said Sept. 10 at a city meeting that she spoke to the Florida Division of Elections and “they really didn’t have solution. The only statutes that deal with canvassing boards are at the county level.”

Petruff said the city must handle the situation.

“I thought it would be easier to change our ordinance,” said Petruff. “I changed it to read similar to other boards where the mayor can appoint members, but with the consent of the commission.”

The change was up for first reading at the city meeting and, Petruff said if passed, candidates could be presented soon because “the work of the canvassing board begins around mid-October. So time is of the essence.”

Morton moved to approve the first reading, which was seconded by Titsworth. During discussion, Zaccagnino expressed opposition.

“This is very strange,” he said. “In the 50 years of the city, this has never happened. You want to change a law just so Commissioner Grossman can wear a T-shirt. This has never been done in this city. To change this law just for Commissioner Grossman is unacceptable.”

While Zaccagnino targeted Grossman, Titsworth also has disqualified herself to campaign for an incumbent.

Grossman previously said he intends to exercise his constitutional right to support a candidate and reminded Zaccagnino that “I already had disqualified myself. A number of cities don’t do it this way. You have something to lose, that’s why you want to shut me up.”

Zaccagnino said he wasn’t worried about the election and said what upset him was the need to change a longstanding law on behalf of one person.

Peelen reminded Zaccagnino that both Grossman and Titsworth disqualified themselves before they were aware of the canvassing board requirements and it was too late to back out of their support for a candidate.

“They already acted politically, so they were already disqualified at that point,” said Peelen. “To say it’s because they are unhappy about someone is not the case.”

Zaccagnino said in the past commissioners have “played nice” and respected one another’s candidacy.

But Zaccagnino had support from a seated Holmes Beach commissioner in his first run for office, and other elected officials in the city have supported candidates, most often their fellow commissioners.

Grossman agreed it was better to be cooperative.

“The nicer people that get along would work together,” said Grossman. “It’s a problem that needs to be worked out in a nice and orderly way like the commission used to be.”

Peelen called for a vote on approving the first reading, which passed 4-1. Zaccagnino dissented.

The city is seeking interested people to serve on the canvassing board. Those interested can contact city clerk Stacey Johnston for more information at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Mayor Carmel Monti will recommend potential board members and his selections will need to be approved by the commission at a public meeting should commissioners pass the final reading at the Sept. 26 city meeting.

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