Correction: The original article stated that the Council would have an option to consider not approving the resolution, and consider appointing or leaving the seat vacant. According to the City Attorney, those are not options available to the Council.
The Brevard County Supervisor of Elections has provided the city of Palm Bay with a date for the Special Election that was triggered by the surprise resignation of Councilman Jeff Bailey in August. Bailey accepted a teaching position in Alabama back in January, but didn’t announce his intentions to resign from his seat until July. The timing of his resignation sparked a series of controversial events in the city with decisions on how to fill the vacancy.
Bailey’s seat was up for reelection next year, although he had yet to file for re-election. Resigning with just over a year left in his current term called for a Special Election to be held in order to fill the vacancy according to current city ordinance. According to the same ordinance, a vacancy that occurs with less than a year remaining in the term calls for the city council to appoint someone to fill the position for the rest of the term.
The city Charter approved by the voters in 2012, gives the authority to the Council to decide how to fill vacancies. At the July council meeting where it was proposed to change the ordinance to appoint someone to the position as opposed to having a special election, nearly 200 people showed up to speak against it, and not a single person spoke in favor of appointing.
Mayor Rob Medina called the decision “un-American” that the Council was attempting to “take away the people’s right to vote.” At the following meeting for the final vote, Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson proposed to go along with the Special Election instead of appointing someone temporarily. Johnson previously stated he was attempting to “compromise between the two positions” of appointing vs special election by doing both; appointing someone temporarily until the special election could take place within the 3-6 months required time frame. He felt it was important to have the tie-breaking 5th vote on the council for upcoming major items such as the city budget. His proposal was approved 3-2. He later pulled the appointment measure all together after hearing arguments from Medina and others that the council could effectively operate with just 4 members.
Candidates running for the 2022 election for council, as well as other community members stated they believed that the Council wanted to appoint a member so that they would have the votes necessary to raise taxes over 3% cap, which requires a super majority vote of at least 4-1. Those same individuals began to organize a recall campaign to attempt to remove members who supported appointing over a Special Election. This point was argued despite every member of the council stating on the record that they would not vote to “bust the cap.” This month, Council approved the budget, and all 4 of them kept their word to not go over the 3% cap.
According to the Supervisor’s office, the Special Election is estimated to cost the tax payers of Palm Bay approximately $250,000. In her notification to the city, Supervisor Lori Scott pointed out that since Bailey refused to resign 6 days earlier than he did as was suggested, the Special Election could not occur along with the already scheduled General Election in November, saving the city a significant cost, as well as preventing the seat from being vacant for an extended period of time.
According to the city’s ordinance, the Special Election shall take place no sooner than 90 days after the effective date of the vacancy, and no longer than 180 days after. However, what the ordinance doesn’t take into account is that the Supervisor of Elections provides the date of the Special Election, and it assumes that her office is able to conduct the election within that 90-180 day time frame. As specified in her notification to the city, due to previous statutory commitments by her office, including the general election, the first available date her office could conduct the special election is March 8, 2022. 180 days after Bailey’s resignation date is early February.
However, Lori Scott also pointed out that with a March 8th election date, overseas and military ballots would be sent on January 21st, and domestic mail ballots would be sent February 3rd. Therefore, the 45-day election time period for the requested Special Election would be initiated within the 90-180 day timeframe. In short, votes will start being cast within the 90-180 days, although the actual election itself wont occur until well after the 180 days.
Now that a date has been provided to the city for the Special Election, a resolution will be prepared for the council to officially declare the Special Election. The resolution will be added to the October 21st city council meeting. After approval of the resolution, individuals will be able to file to run for the vacant seat through the City Clerk’s office at City Hall. The information will be posted on the city’s website.
It will be up to the council to decide on the October 21st meeting of what to do now that it is known how late the actual election will take place. With a March 8th election date, it is possible that the seat may not be actually occupied until close to April. The city already has its regular 2022 Primary Election scheduled for August, just 5 months later for the same seat. The council will have to decide whether or not it’s within the best interest of the city to go forward with the Special Election, appoint someone to the seat, or decide to leave it vacant for the remainder of the term. Again, as pointed out earlier, had Bailey resigned just 6 days prior, the Special Election would have occurred on November 2nd along with the General Election, saving the city money, and not leaving the seat vacant for what will now be at least 8, months from August to the end of March.
Disclosure: The author of this article is the 2nd cousin of Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson.