Reprinted with permission from November 14, 2014 ncflindependent.com post written by
While local eyes are keeping a tight watch on the master plan for the Port of Fernandina, there has been an eye-popping situation happening behind the scenes over elections to the board of the Ocean Highway & Port Authority.
According to Supervisor of Elections Vicki Cannon and the Port’s outside counsel Clyde Davis, the port did not have authority to conduct partisan elections for its board, ever. Yet, the Port has been holding races along party lines for decades. Election authorities in Tallahassee have been notified and so has State Senator Aaron Bean, said Cannon.
The Independent found this story today while reviewing Port documents.
In an interview this afternoon, Cannon said that she discovered the situation just before the recent primary elections while researching the Port’s charter for another matter.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Yeah, it was shocking to me. And I thought maybe I was missing something,” said Cannon. “I looked at the charter and it said that the elections are nonpartisan,”
She said she dug deeper into her research, pulling out documents that were several decades old.
“I thought maybe something changed (over the years) and I went back into the 1980s. I stopped there when I didn’t find anything different and I immediately called Clyde,” said Cannon.
She said she also called state election authorities and got in touch with Sen. Bean’s office. She said she asked the senator’s staff to collect as many charters as they could find for review.
“They didn’t find anything different,” said Cannon.
Are the elections still valid?
“I don’t know,” said Cannon. “That’s not for me to decide.”
Should the most recent election have been stopped?
“No, this had nothing to do with the ballot,” she said.
Cannon said that for her, the ethical thing to do was to spread the word quickly. She likened it to finding a grocery store item in your bag that you had not paid for.
“I’d go back to the store immediately and pay,” said Cannon. “I work off my conscience.”
Cannon said she is planning to alert election supervisors from across the state about the issue at a meeting to be held December. She said election officials often work off modern templates and she would like to see additional safeguards put in place.
“There are thousands of special districts (like the Port) and laws change all the time,” said Cannon. “I don’t go around here and say hey, give me a charter. But I will do a qualification form.”
Cannon said that she has fielded phone calls from several Port commissioners on the issue.
“They’re concerned,” said Cannon.
In an email this afternoon, attorney Davis said that moving forward elections to the board will be non-partisan.
“I’ve advised (Cannon) that there is nothing in our Charter that calls for election of Port Commissioners to be partisan and that it is my opinion that under Florida law, election of the Port Commissioners should be conducted on a non-partisan basis,” said Davis.
He called the issue an honest mistake.
“I have also advised our Port Commissioners that, regardless of whether their elections were conducted on a partisan or non-partisan basis their service is valid and their actions lawful,” said Davis. “Perfection, legal or otherwise, is impossible.”
Davis also said this:
“It is a good thing that the law does not require perfection, only honesty.”
Port Authority commissioners debated whether to change the charter to partisan elections at last night’s board meeting. The vote was 2-2, and the resolution failed without a majority. Commissioners Danny Fullwood and Brian Reaves supported partisan elections. Commissioners Carol Franklin and Richard Bruce voted against the measure. Commissioner Ron Braddock remains out on medical leave.