OLDSMAR — Campaign season is in full swing in this community of about 14,000.
Signs have been planted in yards and alongside major roads. Business cards, handbills and fliers have been disseminated. Election Web sites have been launched.
And with less than two months to go before voters in Oldsmar head to the polls and elect a mayor and two City Council members March 9, the mudslinging has commenced.
Political nitpickers are gunning for a mayoral hopeful and two council candidates. Anonymous tattletales are inspecting campaign literature and reporting every misplaced word, every missing word, every missing disclaimer.
"This happens every election," city clerk Lisa Lene said.
About two weeks ago, mayoral candidate Suzanne Vale said she had to shave off a few inches from a campaign sign at the Oldsmar Flea Market because someone told Lene that it was taller than 6 feet, the maximum height for signs in Oldsmar.
"It's just unnecessary, negative energy," said Vale, who has been on the council for six years. "Candidates don't need to concern themselves with other candidate's campaigns unless there are blatant violations.
"The state does that. They have an elections commission that monitors things like that and investigates that."
Three anonymous mailings sent to the Clearwater Times between Dec. 19 and Jan. 7 suggest that other promotional materials from Vale and City Council candidates Linda Norris and Robert Brown are riddled with mistakes, too.
Among the highlights:
Dec. 19: A Norris handbill that read, "Paid for and Approved by Linda Norris for City Council" instead of "Political advertisement paid for and approved by (name of candidate), (party affiliation), for (office sought)," as required by law. "Violation of Fl. State Stat #106.143 Illegal Disclosure," the writer wrote on a sheet of yellow legal note paper.
Jan. 4: A Brown business card that made the same error Norris made and did not display the word "for" between his name and the office he is seeking. "Illegal disclaimer, also left out the word 'FOR' which is mandated," the writer said in a note on a torn sheet of paper.
Jan. 7: A Vale ad in this month's Oldsmar Community News without a disclaimer indicating who paid for it. "How can this candidate for Mayor of Oldsmar run an ad with no disclaimer and not get in trouble," the writer, who isn't registered to vote, asked in a typed note. "If she cannot run her campaign properly and legally, how can she expect to run a City?" (The newspaper mistakenly omitted the disclaimer Vale provided, editor Rita Diehl said.)
The Florida Elections Commission is not investigating any of the alleged violations, clerk Pat Rushing said. State law caps the penalty for such violations to a fine not to exceed $1,000 per count.
Norris said she was correcting the error on her handbill. A first-time political candidate, she said she hopes this is not the way campaigns are run in Oldsmar.
"It's too bad that we can't focus on the issues and what the citizens of Oldsmar need," Norris said. "Rather (we focus on) a mistake in fine print from a new kid on the block."
Brown, another political newcomer, said he isn't surprised that such politicking has crept into the campaign.
"There are different ways to run a campaign, espouse your own abilities and skills and experiences or you can go the opposite of that and try to tear down your opponents," he said. "One is a positive way to campaign and the other is a negative way to campaign."
Brown and Norris' opponent, former council member Loretta Wyandt, said she had no knowledge of the mailings.
"If I had a problem, I'd take it to Lisa; she's the supervisor of elections for the city of Oldsmar," Wyandt said. "I don't care what the candidates do. I'm only interested in my campaign."
Vale's opponent, incumbent Mayor Jim Ronecker, said everybody's going to make mistakes.
"You've got to look at their intentions," he said. "If they continue to do wrong, then it's an issue. If it's an honest mistake, let it be. The campaign is not going to be won because someone is not putting a disclaimer on the sign."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.