Broward elections chief seeks $1.5 million

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 11:58 p.m.
FORT LAUDERDALE - Broward County elections supervisor Miriam Oliphant told commissioners Tuesday that she needs an additional $1.5 million to run the February and March elections, but it was not immediately clear if county lawmakers would grant that request.
Her office will, however, remain on a scaled-back austerity budget and be subject to monthly county audits.
"You're going to be in some hurt in your office," said Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, one of Oliphant's staunchest supporters among county mayors. "I'm sorry about it, but that's the way it's got to be."
The meeting was scheduled months ago and follows several turbulent weeks for Oliphant, who has faced criticism from municipal leaders and commissioners on the management of her office and questions over her ability to run successful elections.
Oliphant presented commissioners with thick binders Tuesday, including, among other things, her response to the state's audit of her office, a bare-bones budget for 2003 and what she called a "master plan" for the Feb. 11 election.
She did not meet a commission request to provide the documents on Friday, so commissioners could review them before Tuesday's meeting. Mayors did not get the paperwork until about an hour before the workshop began, and at least one was unhappy with the information.
"There's no responses. There's no specifics," said Commissioner Lori Parrish, who wants Oliphant removed from office.
Commissioner Lori Parrish, who wants Oliphant removed from office, said giving Oliphant additional funding would be "throwing good money after bad."
On Friday, Broward County Mayor Diana Wasserman-Rubin asked Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend Oliphant, but he rejected her request, saying he did not have any evidence that would warrant her immediate removal.
The commission oversees county affairs but doesn't have authority to fire Oliphant.
Oliphant presented commissioners with documents explaining the $921,263 her office overspent last year. The state attorney's office has been investigating Oliphant because of the budget shortfall.
Oliphant again told commissioners that she did not overspend her budget for the 2002 fiscal year, but that she was underfunded.
"We are trying to run this office on the same budget that we used with the punch card system and it just won't work," Oliphant said. "We need money for training."
Oliphant's finance director, Barbara Adams, told the commissioners at Tuesday's budget and planning workshop that the department would need five years to pay back the deficit it incurred during the past fiscal year.
Eggelletion said the money had to be repaid by November 2004, or before the next presidential election.
"This commission is not waiting any five years to get paid back," Eggelletion said.
Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore sent Oliphant a letter Sunday offering to provide assistance with the February and March elections. LePore is the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
"Be assured this offer is done in the spirit of cooperation," LePore wrote.
Bush sent LePore a letter Tuesday thanking her for offering to assist Broward's elections department.
"This constructive approach to the challenges facing Broward County is essential to ensuring that the rights of the voters are safeguarded," Bush said.
Commissioners did not take a vote of no confidence against Oliphant, because one of the mayors, Ben Graber, withdrew the motion.
Oliphant told commissioners she finds it disenchanting to be "continuously placed under the microscope."
"My energy, heart and mind remain committed to the tasks at hand," Oliphant said.

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