Alachua defends city election decision

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 1:25 a.m.
Alachua city officials on Wednesday said they're standing by their decision to disqualify three would-be candidates for the city's April 10 election even as state election officials said they weren't directing the city when they provided them information about the matter.
At a loosely organized news conference on Wednesday, attorney Robert Rush, who is representing the city, issued a news release saying the city "cannot deviate from the state mandates" as they apply to filing financial disclosure forms, which Lowell T. "Bud" Byrd, Charlie Grapski and Michael A. Perkins are accused of not properly filling out or providing.
Perkins had filed to run against Commissioner Bonnie Burgess and Lowell T. "Bud" Byrd and Charlie Grapski filed to run against Mayor Jean Calderwood.
The city announced Monday night that all three challengers were disqualified for problems with the financial disclosure forms, and referenced an opinion from the state Division of Elections officials as contributing to that decision.
In an e-mail to Deputy City Clerk Alan Henderson on Monday morning, Kristi Reid Bronson, chief of the Florida Bureau of Election Records, wrote that "the Division of Elections would not qualify any of the three candidates based on your description of the deficiencies."
But state officials on Wednesday said they were offering an opinion about what the state would do with a state or district candidate in that situation, not telling the city what it should do.
State election laws apply to state, district and county elections, but don't always apply to municipal elections, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Division of Elections.
"The bottom line is that the city charter, which provides direction on how the city will operate and how individuals are elected within the city, is not a document that the Division of Elections can supercede," Ivey said. "The city wants us to come out and say that we told them not to qualify those candidates. We have never said that. In fact, I think in the initial phone conversation on Friday, we told the city that under those circumstances, we would not qualify those individuals if they were running for a statewide race, but that they would need to consult with their city charter and city attorney."
An Alachua city ordinance regulating city elections lists several requirements for qualifying to run for the City Commission, but doesn't reference the state financial disclosure form. The same city ordinance says that "the general law of the State on the subject of elections shall apply to and govern all City elections" as long as state law doesn't conflict with city ordinances.
Byrd has said he won't seek legal action against the city.
Attorney Joe Little said he's spoken to two would-be candidates who are "very anxious to seek legal redress."
"What's going to be done has not yet been determined," Little said. "From what I can see and what I've been told, the decision was completely unlawful, and the candidates were qualified and did in fact qualify to run in the election. The city's action is inexplicable to me."
Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 .

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