As a result of the surprise resignation of Palm Bay City Councilman Jeff Bailey, an agenda item was placed on the agenda for yesterday’s city council meeting to change the ordinance to allow the council to appoint Bailey’s replacement.
Under the current ordinance, a special election is the method to be used to fill the vacancy since Bailey still has over one year remaining in his term. Had there been less than a year, then it would result in the vacancy being filled by majority vote of the council.
The Supervisor of Election’s office has provided an estimate to the city for the cost to hold the special election. That estimate was just over $253,000. Because of the announced date of Bailey’s resignation, and the 90 day minimum time to pass before the election can be held, it cannot be held along with the already scheduled November 2nd general election for Brevard County.
If the special election could take place along with the general election, it would save the city in total cost to have the election. That is dependent upon Councilman Bailey adjusting his resignation date by just one day sooner.
The council chambers were filled to standing room only, with an estimated 50-100 more citizens standing outside. Mayor Rob Medina moved the agenda item to the beginning of the meeting as opposed towards the end because of the number of people who showed up to speak.
One public speaker stated that “this doesn’t smell right. What are you really trying to do?”
On the Facebook Live stream of the council meeting, up to 190 people were watching at one time. The majority of the comments were overwhelmingly in support of having a special election as opposed to an appointment. In fact not one public speaker spoke in support of the amendment.
The majority of those present in the audience were members of The House church which Mayor Medina is a pastor at. Some members stated that the pastors asked them to come to the meeting in force.
Prior to public comments, Mayor Medina gave the instruction on decorum and civility, and included that there should be no personal attacks made at individuals on the dais. Once personal attacks did occur however, he did not stop them, and gave the reason of supporting the first amendment.
Several times during public comment, Medina allowed the crowd to get out of order, and he himself was out of order 3 times by making comments during the public comment portion of the item. Councilman Foster called for a point of order to address the violation of protocol (Robert’s Rules of Order) to which Medina ignored.
During debate, Foster made the motion to pass the ordinance as written. Foster focused on his 20 plus years of military and law enforcement service to emphasize he understands the importance of the right to vote. His argument for changing the ordinance was that according to the charter, the people gave the power to the council to decide how to fill vacancies by oridinance.
Second to speak was Deputy Mayor Johnson. Johnson expressed his concerns of leaving the seat vacant for up to 5 months while awaiting a special election to occur which could result in tied votes on the 4 member council. Johnson emphasized that a tie vote kills whatever item was being voted on, and cannot be brought forward again for one year. Johnson did say however he supports having a special election.
Johnson also asked the Mayor for an apology for the comments he made on television implying that the members of the staff and on council were un-American and unpatriotic for supporting such an ordinance. Mayor Medina stated that appointments are un-American, and the ordinance should stay as it’s written, even though, as it’s currently written, still does allow for appointments. This was a point that Councilman Felix brought up. Felix stated that if we were under a year left in Bailey’s term, then the ordinance calls for us to appoint someone. Would we not do that because you said it’s un-American?
Medina responded with “that’s a good point.”
Medina doubled down on his comments accusing others of being unpatriotic after Johnson’s request for an apology. Johnson emphasized that the Republican Governor of Florida, Ron Desantis himself makes appointments to elected offices. The Mayor said he still stands by his comments, calling him un-American.
After more debate, Deputy Mayor Johnson came up with a compromise to appoint a temporary member to the council, until the special election could occur, which would be a minimum of 90 days to 180 days away from the date of Bailey’s resignation.
Felix and Foster agreed to this compromise, however Medina argued that somehow that was still taking away the people’s right to vote.
Johnson stated “we are still having an election.” Medina said, “correct.”
“So the people will be voting. So how are we taking away their right to vote?”
You can see that exchange in the video below.
Johnson stated he would like to appoint someone who he knows is not going to run for re-election so that they can be focused on the job, and not putting together a campaign in 3 short months while learning the new job on council at the same time.
Medina went as far as to suggest disallowing the person to run for office, citing a recent event where a US Senator was appointed and promised not to run, yet ran anyway. Medina’s suggestion was quickly shot down by the council and the audience stating that is illegal. You can’t prohibit someone who is qualified from running for office should they choose to do so.
Johnson went on to imply, not by name, that Bill Batton would be the perfect fit for such a position. Batton is well known for attending every city council meeting for decades, and is diligent in researching every agenda item, providing objective analysis to the council. He has stated he is not interested in running for council at all. Johnson stated that he spoke to Bill about the possibility.
Bailey continued to press the argument that the council should be able to operate with only 4 members, and stated that if someone couldn’t get 3 votes to 1, then the issue probably shouldn’t pass anyway. Bailey was more often than not on the losing side of all 4-1 or 3-2 votes throughout his time.
Johnson then brought up just a recent BCRA meeting where the commission’s member, Peter Filiberto was absent from a voting decision which left the 7 member board tied at 3-3. This vote should it have stood, would have killed a major commerical development project in the city. The commission was able to call together an emergency hearing later, where the measure finally passed 6-1, but spoke to Johnson’s point.
Councilman Bailey asked that the ordinance be amended to change the timeframe for the election to occur within 75 days of his resignation instead of 90. Johnson agreed to this change and made the motion to pass his proposal to appoint a temporary member until the special election could occur.
The motion passed 3-2. There is still required to be a second reading on August 5th, (Bailey’s last meeting) where it will be voted on again before becoming final.
If passed, anyone who is qualified to be on council (a resident of Palm Bay for 24 months prior to qualifying for the election) can apply to be appointed. Council members will then receive a list of each applicant and rank them in order of preference. Whichever person receives the highest total ranking from all 4 remaining members will be the appointed member.
Below is a link to the Florida Attorney General’s Opinion stating that the council does have the right to appoint members to the elected office.