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Former Largo mayor scratched from ballot over missing signature

In a messy turn of events, former Mayor Bob Jackson has been disqualified from the Largo city election because one of his candidate forms, a loyalty oath, was not signed.

Friday afternoon, City Clerk Diane Bruner e-mailed a letter to the Supervisor of Elections Office asking the mayor's race to be pulled from the ballot.

Jackson was challenging incumbent Mayor Pat Gerard, who defeated him in the 2006 election. For now, Gerard is automatically re-elected as the only qualified candidate, Bruner said.

Jackson, 76, who had served on the City Commission for three decades, was notified about the issue Thursday, two days after his position on the ballot was drawn and eight days after he was initially informed that he had qualified. The qualification period ended Aug. 13.

"What I know, I don't like," Jackson said. "I talked to a lawyer and he told me not to make any comments."

City Attorney Alan Zimmet said Bruner made the decision after requesting a legal opinion from the state Division of Elections on the matter.

Gary J. Holland, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of State, said that qualification must be decided by the municipality. But his e-mail opinion received by the city on Thursday also said, that under state statutes, if a candidate fails to sign the oath before the end of the qualification period, the candidate is not qualified.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office staff noticed the missing signature after candidate forms were turned into the office Aug. 19, spokeswoman Nancy Whitlock said. The office notified the City Clerk that day.

In another twist, Jackson's loyalty oath was notarized without the signature.

Jackson came into City Hall on Aug. 10 to turn in a few forms, including the loyalty oath, which required notarization, Bruner said. Bruner met Jackson at the front desk after she received a call from receptionist Donna Givens, she said.

As for the missing signature, Bruner said she should have scrutinized the form more carefully. "I clearly did not do a through enough review," she said.

Had she known he did not sign the form, she would have given him a new one before the end of qualifying, she said.

Givens, who notarized Jackson's form, however, recalled that Bruner did initially tell Jackson the loyalty oath needed a signature.

"I remember her handing it to Bob (Jackson) and saying, 'You have to sign it,' " Givens said.

The "phones were ringing off the hook," Givens said. And she remembered handing Jackson a pen while answering a call.

Givens said she notarized the form, but failed to notice the missing signature.

"It's my mistake," Givens said.

Bruner said she then made copies of the forms for Jackson before he left City Hall.

"It's the candidate's responsibility to make sure they've completed all of their forms," said Jennifer Krell Davis, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Elections.

If a candidate disagrees with the decision of the qualifying officer, he or she can pursue the matter in court, Davis said.

Bruner said she didn't catch the missing signature until the Supervisor of Elections office contacted her.

Zimmet said it was ultimately Jackson's responsibility.

"Yeah, she missed it," Zimmet said. "So apparently did Mr. Jackson."

Former Largo mayor scratched from ballot over missing signature 08/22/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 4:31am]
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