SAFETY HARBOR — Gov. Rick Scott's call for a March election to fill the seat left vacant by the Oct. 18 death of longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young could throw a wrench into Safety Harbor's election plans.
City commissioners will decide Monday whether to reverse a controversial decision made before Young's death to delay Safety Harbor's election from March to November 2014. That move was intended to save money and increase voter turnout by aligning city and county elections.
"There is really no reason now to hold (the election) in November when you can hold it in March and make everyone happy," said City Manager Matt Spoor, adding that the city can now reap the same benefits either way.
Piggybacking on the county date saves Safety Harbor about $20,000 because of shared costs for things like poll workers and advertising, according to city documents.
The proposed change would alleviate pressure on Mayor Joe Ayoub and Commissioner Nina Bandoni, who faced criticism in July for voting, as some residents saw it, to extend their own terms by eight months.
Immediately after Young's death, Ayoub contacted the city manager to suggest moving the election back to March if a special election would be held that month.
"I think we made the best decision we could at the time with the information we had," he said.
Resident Michael Dommer said he had concerns about commissioners' original vote to change the election date to November and is glad to see they may reconsider.
"Taking advantage of this special election to move the city elections back to March would be a great opportunity for our current mayor and commissioners to demonstrate that saving money was the only motivation for their original decision," he said. "I repeat my concerns that any attempt to extend your own term of public office for any reason is politically unwise."
Scott's announcement of the March 11 special election comes just under the wire for Safety Harbor. City staff scrambled Thursday to prepare paperwork and notify residents that the commission will discuss moving the election on Monday.
If Scott had waited one week longer to pick a special election date, it might have been impossible to meet the legal deadlines for qualifying and for the March election, said Spoor.
"Some could say (Young) is still watching over politics and the people's right to vote," Spoor said. "He left us a little present."
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or 850-323-0353. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.