TIERRA VERDE — The tactics used by owners of the Tierra Verde Resort Marina to clear registered voters from an area to be annexed by the city of St. Petersburg have led to a complaint being filed with the Department of Justice.
The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office filed the complaint after a series of questionable events were logged by county staffers pertaining to voting rights of live-aboard residents at the marina.
The efforts made by A&S Tierra Verde Ventures, which owns the marina at 200 Madonna Blvd., were an attempt to remove at least 17 live-aboard residents who had listed the marina's address on their voter registration.
The city of St. Petersburg discovered the registered voters while attempting to annex the Tierra Verde Resort Marina and several other commercial properties and subsequently backed away from the plans since they would have required the city to hold a referendum vote.
The Supervisor of Elections Office received phone calls from two voters on Dec. 18, 2007, saying that the marina's management had informed them that they could no longer use 200 Madonna Blvd. as their address.
The calls were followed with a letter from project manager Timothy Haws asking that the supervisor of elections remove 16 voters who were registered at the marina's address and another phone call from a resident that was the primary cause of concern.
Resident feared eviction
Nicole Foglio, a county staffer, received a phone call on Jan. 7 from Katherine Nelson, who stated that she lived at the marina and that "property management had threatened to evict her if she did not change her voter registration address," according to an event log kept by the Supervisor of Elections Office.
"That's what really caused us to report this to the Department of Justice because our No. 1 concern is the voter," said Nancy Whitlock, spokeswoman for the Supervisor of Elections Office.
The county's event log states that copies of the log, letters sent to the Supervisor of Elections Office from A&S Tierra Verde Ventures and certified letters sent to the voters in question were sent to the Department of Justice on Jan. 20.
Erik Albin from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Public Affairs confirmed that they had received the complaint.
The Supervisor of Elections Office received calls from Haws as well, including one where he identified himself as the project manager for the Ballast Point Investment Group and stating that "they were demanding that voters registered at that address change their voting addresses," according to the event log.
"Mr. Haws was told only a voter can request their address be changed and was referred to Betsy Steg, assistant county attorney."
The marina's management also required live-aboard residents to sign three different lease agreements, with amendments referencing the receipt of mail and residency, marina resident Myles Harriman said.
"We didn't have any of these problems until this annexation thing came through. That's the bottom line," Harriman said.
Harriman has been living at the Tierra Verde Resort Marina with his son for more than two years. While not registered to vote, Harriman still pays about $800 a month in fees to lease his boat slip along with about 30 other people who live there, he said. His driver's license still has 200 Madonna Blvd. listed as his address.
Marina officials have declined to comment. Haws and other members of the Ballast Point Investment Group have not returned phone calls.
Registered voters at the 200 Madonna Blvd. address were made ineligible March 12 after certified letters from the Supervisor of Elections Office were returned as undeliverable and the voters failed to respond to a notice posted in the St. Petersburg Times.
Thirteen voters were made ineligible and at least three others, including Nelson, have changed their address to the Supervisor of Elections Office, at 315 Court St. in Clearwater, leaving no voters registered at the marina.
"It's pretty common for people to do this when they don't have another address to use," Whitlock said.
With no registered voters within the area the city plans to annex there would be no need for a referendum vote.
St. Petersburg released a new annexation report that does not include the submerged lands under the Tierra Verde Resort Marina earlier this month.
St. Petersburg was unaware of any methods used to remove the voters from the address, said Assistant City Attorney Jeanne Hoffmann.
"We did alert the property owners that there were people registered to vote, but that's the full extent of it," Hoffmann said.
Reach Nick Johnson at [email protected] or 893-8361.