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Palm Bay may appoint its next Council Member; here’s why, and what that means

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The Palm Bay City Attorney has added an agenda item to the July 15th City Council meeting recommending a change to the City Ordinance related to filling vacancies on the council.

Last week, Councilman Jeff Bailey surprisingly announced his resignation from his elected position 3 years into his current term. He stated the date of his resignation will be August 5, 2021. This voluntary date is important for several reasons which we will address. It is also a date that is completely determined by Councilman Bailey himself.

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There have been several misstatements made on social media regarding this agenda item, which we will also try to clear up.

The most common misstatement being made is that Councilman Randy Foster recommended and brought this item forward. That is incorrect as indicated in the agenda itself. The agenda clearly states that the item is being requested by the City Attorney’s office.

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According to the City Attorney, the proposal is being made by her office to eliminate the substantial cost of a special election to the tax payers due to Councilman Bailey voluntarily not fulfilling his obligation of his term. The last special election that occurred in November 2019 cost the city’s tax payers approximately $83,000. The city is still waiting on figures from the Supervisor of Elections office, but it is believed this election would cost over $100,000. Because of Bailey resignation date, and the requirement that the election occur no less than 90 days after, it would force the Supervisors office to put together an entire new election specifically for Palm Bay, as opposed to holding it with the already scheduled elections to occur on November 2, 2021 with the other municipalities in the county.

That greatly increases the cost of the election because it essentially doubles the labor and workload for the Supervisor’s office, recruiting poll workers, staffing polling locations, printing ballots, etc, which is why the cost will be greater than 2019.

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Voter turnout is also an issue. Special election are historically extremely low when it come to actual voters voting. In the 2019 election, only 9% of Palm Bay’s over 80,000 voters actually voted. This election’s turnout would be expected to be even lower, because the election would likely occur between the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Showing up to vote to replace a councilman who decided to quit would not be high on the priority list of most voters during that time.

Should the election then get pushed into happening in 2022, after the New Year, the tax payers would still be on the hook for over $100,000 to fill a seat that will only be filled for a few months before the regularly scheduled primary election for the seat in August of 2022.

Another misstatement being spread around is that the council is changing the City’s Charter. That is also incorrect. The proposal is a recommended change to the city ordinance. As outlined in our article announcing the resignation of Bailey, the charter states that vacancies will be filled in accordance with the city ordinance. City Council cannot simply change the city charter by a majority vote. So that statement is categorically false.

Because of the costs associated with special elections, and also but not limited to the reasons listed above, most municipalities in Brevard County and elsewhere do not require special elections to fill vacancies at all. The cities of Melbourne, West Melbourne, Rockledge, Cocoa, and Titusville all appoint a member to fill a vacancy.

There is some irony in the legacy Councilman Bailey will be leaving the city with. As a councilman known for arguing for fiscal conservatism, and just had a lengthy debate over a $400 vehicle allowance, is voluntarily leaving the tax payers with over a $100,000 bill from abandoning his position.

Should the ordinance pass on July 15, it will require a second reading which will occur on the August 5th Council Meeting, which will be Councilman Bailey’s last. According to the new ordinance, the council will have 30 days to appoint Bailey’s replacement.

Anyone who meets the residency requirement of having lived in Palm Bay for at least 12 consecutive months can submit for the position. The candidates would be ranked in the same manner used for appointments to advisory boards. The council would then vote for who will fill the vacancy at that time. Should they fail to fill the position within the 30 day time frame, then a special election would occur.

It is expected should this ordinance pass, there will be many people throw their hat in the ring for the position. The would essentially be able to serve on the council without having to go through the tremendous task and financial cost of campaigning. This opens the door to many who otherwise would not have had the time or resources to run a competitive election campaign.

There is definitely some pushback on the proposal on social media. Allegations of corruption, voter suppression etc, are being thrown around, along with a lot of misinformation, as is common on social media. However, from a fiscal and practical standpoint, the proposal makes sense, and is in line with the other major municipalities in Brevard. The data shows that voters simply don’t show up for special elections, and essentially less than one voter will be making a decision for every 10. The argument for the council appointing for the vacancy would be that they by definition, are the elected representation and voice of the people. Theoretically, their vote on the Council should have the same result as an election because the voters have elected them based off of their own beliefs in the first place. Either way it goes, there will be some who are happy and some who are outraged, just like every other vote. But none of this would be happening at all if Bailey fulfilled his obligation. He has put this burden on the city and the tax payers entirely on his own. Now the city is trying to minimize the damage.

City Council members make less than $12,000 per year. Those who want to apply must fill out Residency of Candidate Affidavit and a Candidate Biographical Data sheet at the City Clerk’s office. Whoever is elected or appointed will serve until the nexter general municipal election scheduled for November of 2022.

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