Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 14, 2015 11:05 a.m.

State Representative Janet Adkins (R) and State Senator Aaron Bean (R) take public testimony on the Port Authority's request for a local bill to legitimize partisan elections to that body.
State Representative Janet Adkins (R) and State Senator Aaron Bean (R) take public testimony on the Port Authority’s request for a local bill to legitimize partisan elections to that body.

To the disappointment of many and the surprise of a smaller subset of the audience, members of the Nassau Legislative Delegation – both Republican — voted on January 13, 2015 to uphold a request of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA)) to move forward with local bill that would amend the OHPA’s charter to bring it into conformance with what has been the practice for the past 63 years: partisan elections.   All five members of the current OHPA are Republicans.

OHPA Attorney Clyde Davis advocates bringing charter into conformity with past practice of partisan elections over the past 63 years.
OHPA Attorney Clyde Davis advocates bringing charter into conformity with past practice of partisan elections over the past 63 years.

According to a timeline Clyde Davis, the OHPA attorney, reported, “We know that for 17 of those [63] years, the practice has not been consistent with the change in the law [Special District Accountability Act], but nobody knew and nobody complained.”

The discrepancy surfaced in the fall of 2014 when Fernandina Beach resident Medardo Monzon raised a series of questions regarding the 2014 OHPA elections. Those elections were decided in the August Primary Election, when three Republican candidates—Adam Salzburg, Carrol Franklin and Ron Braddock—were in effect “elected ” because they had faced no opposition on the November general election. While researching Monzon’s questions relating to candidate information listed on her website, Nassau County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Cannon uncovered a different problem:  that the state approved OHPA charter mandated non-partisan elections. She notified the OHPA, which then passed a resolution seeking to bring its current charter into conformity with its historical practice of having its Commissioners elected in partisan elections, in the same manner and from the same districts as the Nassau County Commissioners.

Almost 30 people attended the Nassau Legislative Delegation meeting on January 13 in the Page Governmental Center in Yulee. Only one of tne of the 14 speakers supported the proposed amendment to legitimize partisan elections.
Almost 30 people attended the Nassau Legislative Delegation meeting on January 13 in the Page Governmental Center in Yulee. Only two of the of the 14 speakers supported the proposed amendment to legitimize partisan elections.
State Representative Adkins, OHPA Chair Richard Bruce and attorney Clyde Davis confer before the meeting.
State Representative Adkins, OHPA Chair Richard Bruce and attorney Clyde Davis confer before the meeting.

State Senator Aaron Bean, who chairs the 2-member Nassau Delegation, began the hour-long meeting by informing audience members that he and State Representative Janet Adkins, the other member of the Nassau Delegation, would be taking public input on one issue: whether or not OHPA elections should be nonpartisan, as specified in the current charter, or partisan as they have been for 63 years. Without action by the state legislature, future elections would conform to the charter. But should the Nassau Delegation vote unanimously to endorse the OHPA proposal, a local bill would be introduced in the upcoming legislative session to amend the charter to make future elections partisan. Bean advised the audience that a decision to move forward on a local bill begins a process that will involve future hearings in the legislature before a final decision.

Bean also announced that according to Florida Statutes, there is a 10-day time limit for appeal of election results, and that such time has passed for appealing 2014 election results. Since there has been no appeal of partisan election results, OHPA commissioners are deemed to have been properly elected and their decisions are legal.

Michael Harrison:  "OHPA argument less than adequate to change."
Michael Harrison: “OHPA argument less than adequate to change.”

After deferring to Representative Adkins for opening remarks, Bean recognized OHPA attorney Clyde Davis, who presented the OHPA position that partisan elections do not prevent anyone from seeking office. He suggested that political parties help recruit candidates and that without such support a situation could arise where nobody runs for office. Davis said that the amendment sought was consistent with the “statutory scheme for ports.” He encouraged the legislators to endorse the practice that has been in effect for 63 years.

Old Town resident Michael Harrison, the first of eleven speakers in opposition to the proposed amendment, claimed that the “onus of the [OHPA] argument is less than adequate to change [the charter].” He said t hat party politics have no place in port management and that no party has an exclusive right. He said that there would be a benefit in seeing a greater diversity of candidates.

Chip Ross:  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
Chip Ross: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Chip Ross, Fernandina Beach Historic District resident and neighbor to the Port of Fernandina, reminded Bean and Adkins that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. He cited the $100K study that produced the controversial port master plan, a 10 percent negative rate of return and a 50 percent drop in port business. He said, “Let’s see if we can get a different result [by conducting OHPA elections as nonpartisan].”

Medardo Monzon has filed an election protest following his notification that OHPA elections violated the charter.
Medardo Monzon has filed an election protest following his notification that OHPA elections violated the charter.

Medardo Monzon, who raised questions in September regarding OHPA elections not being held during the general election, maintained that because he filed an election protest within ten days of being officially informed on December 29 that the port elections should be nonpartisan according to the OHPA charter, all actions of the OHPA are illegal until the state affirms their legality. He said that the OHPA has put forward a controversial plan that constitutes an abuse of power, and that because elections were decided in the primary, there was no opportunity for write-in candidates. He invoked words of Abraham Lincoln in pleading with the legislators not to make future elections partisan.

Representative Adkins greets Steve Crounse before the meeting.
Representative Adkins greets Steve Crounse before the meeting.

Island resident Steve Crounse also asked that elections be nonpartisan. He claimed that the OHPA needs oversight and that it is “out of control.” In response to an audience outburst Senator Bean reminded Crounse to limit his remarks to the particular issue under consideration and not the broader topic of problems with the port master plan. Crounse asked that Bean and Adkins follow through with an earlier willingness to host a town meeting on Amelia Island to listen to citizen concerns about the port and its plans.

Nassau County Elections Supervisor Vicki Cannon explains her research into the OHPA charter.
Nassau County Elections Supervisor Vicki Cannon explains her research into the OHPA charter.

 

 

Nassau County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Cannon explained her research into the OHPA Charter and her belief that the conduct of elections in violation of the charter was an “inadvertent error,” following the passage of the Special District Accountability Act amended by the state legislature in 1997. The current OHPA charter was adopted in 2005, but no one caught the 1997 change.  Following the meeting, Cannon stressed that she had responded to Monzon’s specific questions immediately, but had delayed further response, with his understanding, due to her office’s workload in conducting the November general election.  She discovered the error independently of Monzon’s inquiry.

OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood responds to Bean's question:  "No one appeared to speak to this matter at OHPA meetings."
OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood responds to Bean’s question: “No one appeared to speak to this matter at OHPA meetings.”

OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood, who had listened to the previous audience comments with barely contained unhappiness, spoke in support of the proposed charter amendment. He said that no one seemed to have a problem with partisan elections when port revenues were up. He maintained that changing the charter to formalize partisan elections would not disenfranchise anyone. He also reported that when the OHPA met to discuss this issue, there was no objection from anyone in attendance at the meetings.

Speakers Ann Thomas, Don Rooney and Jennifer Harris followed Fullwood, each emphasizing that OHPA elections should be nonpartisan and that technical expertise should outweigh partisan politics. Thomas reported that local residents are “furious at the way this OHPA is operating” and wielding “veiled threats” of eminent domain. She said that the state needs to consider an amendment “to curtail the enormous power of this board.” Rooney elaborated on her comments, citing what he called the OHPA’s “almost plenary powers in economic development.” Harrison said, “We want the brightest and best people serving on this board.”

Phil Scanlan:  "Going forward, you should correct a defect, not authorize the defect."
Phil Scanlan: “Going forward, you should correct a defect, not authorize the defect.”

Amelia Island resident Phil Scanlan drew an analogy to his work in quality control and making decisions to recall defective products. He said that once a defect is discovered, it would be corrected. He said, “Don’t change the process to authorize the defect.” He said that non-Republicans aren’t running for local office because they can’t get elected in partisan races. Primaries prevent even more people from even voting. “Why should non-Republicans be excluded?” he asked. Scanlan’s comments were in reference to the registered voter numbers in Nassau County where today 54 percent of Nassau County’s 56,132 active voters are registered Republicans, 26 percent are Democrats, and 20 percent list other or no party affiliation.

Joan Bean, mother of State Senator Bean:  "We're scared about the OHPA powers."
Joan Bean, mother of State Senator Bean: “We’re scared about the OHPA powers.”

Joan Bean, Senator Aaron Bean’s mother, also spoke against the move to legitimize partisan elections. She said that as a representative of the older generation, “We are scared about the Port Authority’s powers.” She cited port powers of eminent domain. Senator Bean replied, “Mother, you just described every elected board in the state.” Mrs. Bean was not to be deterred. “It’s not right,” she said. “They are not beholden to the people.”

Michael Leary suggests moving forward with new elections.
Michael Leary suggests moving forward with new elections.

 

 

 

 

Yulee resident Michael Leary said, “My head is spinning. It is like the Wizard of Oz is behind the curtain. An illegitimately elected OHPA is petitioning you to change their charter [to legitimize their elections].” He suggested moving forward with new OHPA elections, adding that “if Clyde Davis [as OHPA attorney] was on post and more competent, maybe we wouldn’t be here tonight.”

Bean allowed Davis a two-minute response. Davis said that the problem did not just exist in September 2014, but rather “it has existed through previous terms until this attorney and this board brought the problem forward. But nobody [previously] cared.”   In response to comments from some of the speakers he said that the OHPA has not told the city of Fernandina Beach that it is immune from all its laws. “But it is immune,” he said, “from interference in their operations.”

Susan Raab:  "We are asking you not to change the charter."
Susan Raab: “We are asking you not to change the charter.”

Susan Raab, the final speaker, said that the question before the delegation is “Shall we change the law?” All except for one speaker has asked that the law not be changed. “Just because things have been done wrong [over the years] is not a good reason to change,” she said

Following public input Senator Bean reiterated his conviction that the current OHPA Board is legal. He said, however, that he allowed broad testimony because “I wanted the OHPA to hear the people, to win back the confidence of the people, which they have lost.” As a local resident he added, “We don’t want to sell our souls for economic development.”

Representative Adkins thanked the 30 or so audience members for their attendance and input but added, “I heard 14 speakers of all of Nassau County.” She said that she understands the concerns that something is not right and wants to fix it. She defined the issue as the elections. She said that she supports partisan elections because candidates hold the core values of the party they represent, adding to transparency.

Bean said that in deciding issues like this, the default is the recommendation of the body putting forth the recommendation. In this case, the OHPA voted 3-1 to request the charter amendment that would legitimize partisan elections. He said, “They know best.”

Adkins and Bean, the Nassau Legislative Delegation, vote to support the local bill.
Adkins and Bean, the Nassau Legislative Delegation, vote to support the local bill to change the OHPA charter and provide for partisan elections.

Both Bean and Adkins voted to support the OHPA request, which now moves forward for consideration by the state legislature as a local bill.

Few local elected officials attended the meeting. In addition to Elections Supervisor Vicki Cannon and OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood, OHPA Chair Richard Bruce and Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Johnny Miller also were present.

Updated with clarification from Supervisor of Elections Vicki Cannon.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Joe Palmer
Joe Palmer (@guest_26648)
7 years ago

All the windy comments by the officials supporting partisan OHPA elections do not adequately address why there should be partisan elections. We have enough partisanship in elections and public office in this country and in this county. More partisanship is part of the problem, not a solution.

Patrick Leary
Patrick Leary (@guest_26649)
7 years ago

Irrefutable proof of America’s new governance at all levels: Oligarchy-Plutocracy

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_26650)
7 years ago

Senator Bean publicly acknowledged that he knew, prior to the elections, that the process being followed to elect OHPA Board Commissioners violated the charter and Florida Statues, yet, he remained silent before elections took place. Spread the word and remember this in the next elections. It’s time to hold elected officials accountable.

Michael Harrison
Michael Harrison (@guest_26652)
7 years ago

What a travesty of a ‘hearing’! Both Sen. Bean and Rep. Adkins voted according to the prejudices that they had when they came to the meeting; beliefs that OHPA knows best, and that partisan elections aid transparency and inform voters about candidates! They could have declared these positions at the start of the meeting and we would have been able to point out the fallacies in them.

And if Rep. Adkins needs to have more than 12 people telling her the same thing before she regards it as valid input, perhaps she should share the number she needs before the meeting in case a larger venue is needed.

I told Sen. Bean that I was disgusted with the process. Sadly, because of this piece of ‘democracy at work’ it is likely that the OHPA charter will be changed to require party affiliations at elections, and we’ll continue to have one party dominate the OHPA commission. As the saying goes ‘if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got’.

chuck hall
chuck hall (@guest_26653)
7 years ago

I am saddened to hear that both representatives voted the party line. While I do not pretend to understand the whys and wherefores of all this, it was a mistake made years ago, and our representatives have decided to make this mistake a law.
How can we sit by and approve this?
As a Republican, I support my party, but I do not think it behooves us to change the law to suit our party. This was Saddam’s way to govern, not ours.
I had hoped our reps would see farther than the party line.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26654)
7 years ago

Sad. Something tells me that turning one’s back on the best interest of our Community and it’s future is not a good idea.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_26655)
7 years ago

Why was i surprised at the outcome of the issue, Partisan vs. Non-Partisan elections for our county Commissioners to the Ocean Highway and Port Authority? For a guy that’s lived 3/4 of a Century i’m still so naive. What we all saw instead of an exercise in Democracy, Was an exhibit in Partisan Politics. I’m not saying anything would change if this county was Democrat. Both parties hate to lose any Power. Since moving to this Island iv’e always appreciated both representative Adkins and Senator Bean. Even though i don’t agree with a lot of their Politics. Iv’e always felt, if things get out of hand at the Port, Because they both live on and love this Island. We could count on them. With that vote Adkins and Bean have only emboldened, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Davis in their arrogance and disdain for this electorate. Any new ideas folks?

Sheila Cocchi
Sheila Cocchi (@guest_26662)
7 years ago

Newly registered voter in this area. Will be happy to cast my vote against those two. Sheesh.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_26747)
7 years ago
Reply to  Sheila Cocchi

Welcome to the community. We need more people like you so that OHPA is responsive to people’s need.

Chris Cherry
Chris Cherry (@guest_26663)
7 years ago

Setting aside the issues of the Port Master Plan, the Port Authority’s decisions, and the manner in which the past elections have been held, it seems to me that some may misunderstand what a “partisan” election is.
In a partisan election, each party submits one candidate that is nominated (but not elected) in a primary held by that party. Florida citizens can only vote in the primary of the party they are registered for.

In no way does this prevent a Democrat from running, nor does it prevent candidates from any other party: Green, Labor, Socialist and so on. It does not prevent candidates from running without party affiliation. It does not prevent write-in candidates. If you have enough signatures to be on the ballot, then you can be on it.
So what happens if all candidates are from one party? Florida law dictates that the candidates are to appear on all ballots so that people of any party can vote for them.

I say all of this not to endorse or oppose the OHPA, the Master Plan, or the manner in which the described meeting proceeded. I am only pointing out that a “partisan” or “non-partisan” election does not prevent a diversity of candidates from running for office.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_26670)
7 years ago

Chris, I think most people on this blog understand all of what you’r saying. But in this town the Republican brand is very strong. When the party gets behind someone it’s pretty much over for anyone else. Monies, Ads, Partisan voting, no matter what expertise one has or has not for the Job at hand,they are a shoe-in. The reason we have a functioning City Commission most of the time is because the elections are Non-Partisan. Not without passion, but non-partisan.

Betty Philemon
Betty Philemon (@guest_26673)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

Outstanding Mr. Crounse. We all understand the meaning but who has the deep pockets to fork out money for a campaign knowing they will lose if they aren’t Republican? Maybe we should all pull a Charlie Christ?

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26674)
7 years ago

“Gullibility”.

Ross Gass
Ross Gass (@guest_26683)
7 years ago

I don’t understand most of the comments on this article. Because the officials didn’t come to your desired decision, they were prejudiced from the outset? Since so many of the people present at the meeting were of similar opinion, long tenured elected officials should decide according to the most vocal instead of using their experience and best judgment? Because only Republicans have ever run for seats on the OHPA, partisan ideals are ruining the board? Because there are more Republicans registered in Nassau County there is no hope for a Democrat ever being elected to anything?
As Chris Cherry pointed out, because there are party designations does not mean that any other party is being shut out. You say you understand that that is how the system works but are unhappy that it be codified and spelled out from the beginning? Would you rather someone without a party affiliation be elected and then vote in a way similar to a “Tea Party” agenda? Wouldn’t you rather know the person’s ideals ahead of time? The same applies to Mr Davis’s statements regarding the powers of the OHPA. It’s important that the powers be understood from the outset so there is no misunderstanding. Mr. Davis wasn’t making threats, he was pointing out the OHPA’s willingness to work with the CofFB instead of using the powers granted them by the State. As he said in a previous meeting regarding those use of those powers: Just because it’s possible does mean its pertinent to do so. That’s called candor. That’s called transparency.

Michael Harrison
Michael Harrison (@guest_26686)
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Gass

Ross: I used the word ‘prejudiced’ in the sense that the representatives had pre-judged the issue before they came to the meeting. The reasons given by Sen. Bean and Rep. Adkins were ideas that they held coming in, and none of the arguments that they heard would have convinced them otherwise.

Chris is correct that Democrats can run in a partisan election, but the sad fact is that they stand no chance of winning because of the dominance of the Republican vote. (Nassau County voters 54% Republican, 26% Democrat, and 20%). A recent County Commissioner told me that ‘you cannot get elected here without an R after your name’. The problem occurs in the ballot box where many voters are present to vote for the headline races of President, Senator, Governor etc. They know who to vote for at that level, but the ballots go on to include judges, mosquito control, and Port Authority. Here, it is unlikely that the voter knows the names or positions of the candidates and will likely vote a party ticket. I’m happy with partisan elections at national and state levels, and totally against them at the local level.

For me, the question is whether party politics has anything to do with running a port. I don’t think it does. Having the port elections non-partisan would encourage a wider range of candidates to stand and I think that a more diverse, and better, board of commissioners would result. This would be beneficial to the County, the City and the Port.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_26693)
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Gass

Mr. Gass,

Do you understand that the 2014 elections of OHPA Commissioners violated the OHPA charter specified in the Florida legislature? The violations were identified PRIOR to the elections and were know to Clyde Davis and senator Bean.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_26725)
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Gass

Ross, Please read Phil Scanlan’s Post on this blog this morning.” Taxation with out representation.” That explains this whole issue. I don’t care what Party Affiliation anybody has. Every one should have a vote. That’s called DEMOCRACY. I’d say the same no matter what party is in power.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26694)
7 years ago

Ross,
I don’t know if it applies to any of the current OHPA officeholders or any of the county commissioners, but my recollection was that in the early 2000’s there were a number of candidates that switched their party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. Did they have a sudden change in core values, did the Democratic party desert them? I suspect they realized what Michael Harrison relayed, if you wanted to stand a chance to get elected you needed to be affiliated with the party in power. But the issue is now dead so time to move on. It will be interesting to see if other candidates come forward in the next election.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26712)
7 years ago

Issue now is Kinder Morgan. The Port Authority Commission has “contracted out” its port management – and uses this huge energy company to now determine what is “best” for our community. Anyone thinking Kinder Morgan’s game plan will be controlled or modified by the Commission had better think again. “Partisan”, in effect, means the GOP in Nassau County – and the GOP believes that what is good for business is good for all. Unfortunately, the business now in control of the county and city’s future is a giant energy monopoly that could care less. Dave Lott’s comments in a previous post about having several alternative Port development approaches to choose from are spot on – with Ft. Pierce being a good model.

Andrew Curtin
Andrew Curtin(@bkdriverajcgmail-com)
7 years ago

Comments from Chris Cherry and Ross Gass regarding Florida’s election procedures are right on.Nobody is being denied a vote.If democrats or any other party,for that matter,wish to contest seats on the OHPA Commission,then get organized ,identify candidates,and run them.Same goes for the County Commission and the School Board.Don’t hide behind the excuse about needing to be a republican to run and possibly win in Nassau Co.
Case in point:Although the city elections are “non-partisan”,it is not difficult to discern the candidates’ politics,and two of the three most recently elected commissioners ran as NPA’s,probably having changed from democrat, and won out over two clearly conservative republicans.
Final note:Prior to 1990,there was no republican party in Nassau Co.,so all “partisan”elections were democrat and the democrat party controlled political life in Nassau Co. dating back to the 1800’s

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26880)
7 years ago

This, from another “Fernandina Observer” article, is why this happened.

http://fernandinaobserver.org/2015/01/15/taxation-without-representation-an-opinion/#comment-26879

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