KENNETH CITY — A missing comma could determine who is elected to the Town Council in the March election.
Kenneth City officials last week cleared Ron Neuberger, a Lealman firefighter, to be listed on the ballot. Officials had questioned whether Neuberger, who co-owns property in Pinellas Park, met the requirements to run for the Kenneth City Town Council.
They specifically questioned his residency and voter registration. Council candidates have to have lived in the town for at least two years before qualifying to run, and must have been registered voters for at least two years before qualifying.
Neuberger proved his residency by showing water bills in his name at a Kenneth City address for more than two years before he qualified in December. That left the thornier issue of his voter registration.
The question: Where do candidates have to be registered to vote? The charter clause seems to require that they be registered in Kenneth City: "Council members shall have been electors and residents of the town for two (2) years immediately preceding qualifying."
Trouble was, Neuberger had failed to change his registration to Kenneth City until mid December, just days before he signed up to run for office. He has been registered to vote in Pinellas County since 1986, although he last cast a vote in 2004.
Neuberger argued that the clause meant that he must be a registered voter in Pinellas for the two years before qualifying. His argument carried the day because of a missing comma, Kenneth City Town Attorney John Elias said.
But could a missing comma or its placement override the intent of the rule to ensure that candidates meet both requirements?
Elias conceded that those who drafted the charter may have meant to limit candidacy to voters who had been registered in Kenneth City, but "that's not what it says. … There is no comma."
Had there been a comma after the word "residents," then the two-year requirement would have applied to both voter registration and residency, he said. But because the comma was missing, the two-year requirement was of residency only and the voter registration was not required to be in Kenneth City.
Neuberger, he said, will appear as a candidate on the ballot.
Two council seats are up for grabs. Al Carrier, 73, and Wanda Dudley, 52, are incumbents running for re-election. Newcomer Joanne DeSimone, 65, is also running. With Neuberger, 42, qualified, Kenneth City voters have a chance to put two new faces on the council.
The Town Council consists of a mayor and four council members. It is a council-as-manager form of government. Each council member is responsible for day-to-day operation of one town department. Members serve two-year terms. The council holds at least one meeting and, generally, one workshop a month. Council members are paid $300 a month.
The two top vote-getters in the March 9 election will go into office.